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If I have a DB or set of data, and want to grant access to it to a limited group of experts in a field (not general access), and don't want others using it for their own publications, nor seeing the information being offered for free on the Internet.

What is the best approach to deposit the information somewhere to make sure, in a hypothetical future, that I can claim copyright over it?

Basically, I want to protect myself upfront against My research work stolen and published as his own by the co-author without my consent

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I'm having trouble understanding your first sentence. To me it sounds like you're saying that you both do and don't want to share a certain set of data. Can you clarify? – Pete L. Clark Jun 13 '14 at 17:59
I didn't really understand the question for the reasons provided by @PeteL.Clark but depending on the size, you may be interested in Proof of existence. – Trylks Jun 13 '14 at 18:01
@Trylks That's fascinating. – xLeitix Jun 13 '14 at 18:05
I deleted my answer, and now I am in @PeteL.Clark's camp of people with no idea what the OP even wants. – xLeitix Jun 13 '14 at 18:07
Trylks: you are right on track. However, I still would need to know whether it would have any weight and a real copyright claim. – Quora Feans Jun 13 '14 at 18:16

Basically, I want to protect myself upfront against My research work stolen and published as his own by the co-author without my consent

What you need is to convince the research community that this is your work, so that if anyone tries to steal it, then it will be considered professional misconduct, they won't be able to publish their theft, etc. I'm not convinced copyright law is the right tool for this. Sure, being able to sue someone for copyright violation could be useful in certain circumstances, but often it won't actually settle the academic issues. For example, collaboration. I might claim to have collaborated with you on the research contained in the database, in which case I would be entitled to be a coauthor on academic publications, and you would be considered to be acting unethically if you denied me coauthorship. There's no way to defend against this using copyright registration, cryptographic time-stamping, etc. You might be able to prove that you already had a copy of the database in the past, but it's much harder to prove that I didn't somehow contribute to it, except in extreme cases such as having had a copy before I first studied this field.

In practice, people often deal with this difficulty by telling more people. If you tell just one person about your work, then they can steal it, and it's your word against theirs. If you tell ten people, then it's much harder for a thief to get away with it, since there are nine other witnesses. If you tell a hundred, then it becomes really difficult to steal your work. Unless someone immediately tries hard to steal it, it will become impossible: the community will react by saying "Wait, Quora Feans told all of us about this database last year. If it was your work, why didn't you say anything back then?"

Whether more publicity is a viable solution depends on your circumstances, but there's a fundamental trade-off here. Ultimately, academia cares about credit for the ideas and research, not just who owns the copyright. (If I write a paper about your work, then I own the copyright to my words, but I don't deserve credit for the ideas.) The more you keep your work secret, the harder it is to prove anything about who deserves the intellectual credit.

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Good. Your points are too often not at all understood by (especially) younger, nervous people. – paul garrett Jun 13 '14 at 22:50
I would add: telling via email may be especially good, as it leaves a trace. – Piotr Migdal Jun 13 '14 at 23:33
@PiotrMigdal Cryptographically signed email might be even better. If practical, including hashes of the data normalized to some useful format might further make it possible to prove you had access to the data at that time. – Michael Kjörling Jun 14 '14 at 18:22
@MichaelKjörling May point was to supplement details for a social, not technological, solution. – Piotr Migdal Jun 14 '14 at 20:29
I agree with your answer, do you think you could take a look at this?:… I think there is an important relation. – Trylks Jun 16 '14 at 10:46

See this question on StackOverflow: Is there a way to digitally sign documents to prove they existed at a certain point in time.

The answer is yes. Several solutions were suggested; my answer involves an Internet time-stamping service which signs a cryptographic hash of your document. So if you keep that version of the document, you can prove that it existed on the date in question; but otherwise, nobody ever sees the document except you.

However, if you are actually expecting copyright or IP challenges, I cannot promise that this will stand up legally; you should consult a lawyer.

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I don't believe the "sealed envelope to yourself" method would stand up in any court. It's simply too easy to fake it. – Quora Feans Jun 13 '14 at 18:49
@Quora: If what you care about is standing up in court, then I'll repeat myself: consult a lawyer, not us random clowns from the Internet. – Nate Eldredge Jun 13 '14 at 18:56

This is country dependent and more of a legal question, but basically you have to register your work.

Most of the people in academia SE seem to be from USA, so you can check the process for USA. I was not aware of this, but the site is well ranked in Google and seems properly informing.

Your country should provide some similar mechanism. This kind of mechanisms are the best option if you want to be sure. Otherwise, you can use other kind of mechanism as proof of existence or CKAN and then use that as a proof to register the copyright if needed (but you may as well register in the office up front instead of worrying about doing something else and then registering).

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I wonder whether we need country specific procedures here. If someone gets copyright granted in the US, this copyright should be valid everywhere. It's not like a patent, which indeed is country specific. Maybe we should just fill for copyright in countries which aren't too bureaucratic to work with, and maybe let you do everything online. – Quora Feans Jun 13 '14 at 18:55
@QuoraFeans: But the concepts of copyright differ much e.g. between the US and the European Union, particularly with respect to the inalienable authorship rights, and also with respect to the treatment of data bases. – cbeleites Jun 15 '14 at 13:32
@QuoraFeans some countries completely disregard copyright. People who want to enforce copyright in one of those countries would require their own army (and an invasion). In the end you can prove that you had something at some certain date, but not much more. – Trylks Jun 16 '14 at 10:10

A good institutional data repository should be able to handle this for you. As an example, The Dataverse Network allows you to deposit data, gives that data a persistent DOI, and then allows you to manage permissions. So you could, for example, deposit the data to make it citable and immediately establish your authorship but then only make it available to specified users (who would need to create Dataverse accounts). In the future, you could make the data more broadly available if you so desired.

Other institutional data repositories should be able to handle this process as well.

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