DROPS: Ownership and Data Rights

Project Lead

Dr Anna Chatzimichali, supported by Prof. Glenn Parry


The rise of inter-connected digital goods and services marked the end of an era of local data storage in user-owned equipment. In the new era of remote computing, user data is almost always stored in third party remote resources. This shift made ownership of digital assets and data privacy increasingly abstract. Within this setting the legal community is struggling to grasp the concept of ownership in digital environments, whilst concurrently the technical community has recently started to realise the increasing value of privacy and ownership of digital assets.

Most novel technologies, from apps to cars, require user data to operate. The quality of such user data, as well as a clear model of their ownership, is crucial to the everyday operation of most digital goods, but also extremely valuable for the design of future goods. However, the landscape of ownership of such user-generated data records (or personal data) is unclear. Currently, no organisation has the obligation or the capacity to protect digital personal data and data protection usually happens only as a result of personal interest. 

The Hub of All Things [HAT] microservers are hosted in the cloud, but due to their inherent architectural characteristics they attribute Intellectual Property (IP) rights directly to the user. The microservers therefore have the potential to create a new class of IP rights. A crucial question that remains open is how to attribute IP rights to the datasets generated within a collaborative space, the computational and data storage process of a device employing personalising technology i.e., ThingSpace/ThingBox. 

Research Question

The subject of the current proposal is to investigate the legal underpinning of prevailing commercial practices in the digital world and their impact in the distribution of rights regarding data generation and ownership. Initial studies suggest that IP literature does not cover digital right architectures. Therefore this work will build a bridge between the legal and the technical considerations of ownership in dynamic digital environments. Specifically, research is focussed on rights relating to data within ThingSpace/ThingBox.

The main research questions this work will answer are:

  • What are data rights architectures?

  • How are those architectures structured and what are their legal underpinnings?

  • How do they function within dynamic digital environments?

This work will specifically focus on ownership of data generated within a collaborative personalisation space, such as ThingSpace/ThingBox.

This project is part of the DROPS project.