Ownership of ag data still not a legally-established principle

Ownership of ag data still not a legally-established principle

“As a form of property, ag data is a mix of real, personal, and intellectual property."—Getty Images/Hagen Hopkins

One of the more interesting ag-related blogs is posted by Indianapolis attorney Todd Janzen, who comments on the legal aspects of various technology-related topics.

Much has been written of late about the massive amounts of data being generated on U.S. farms, who owns the data, and related privacy issues.

“The concept of ag data ‘ownership’ is not recognized by United States law,” Janzen writes. “Farmers like to say, ‘I own my ag data.’ Ag technology companies like to say, ‘The farmer owns their data.’ And industry representatives like to say, ‘The farmer should own their data.’ But the reality is that ‘ownership’ is a legal principle that must be recognized by courts or a law — and that has not happened yet in the United States for ag data.”

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There are three forms of property, and thus three things that can be owned, he says: real property, personal property, and intellectual property.

“As a form of property, ag data is a mix of real, personal, and intellectual property. Yield data, for example, is information inextricably linked to the land, like real property. Yield data is also highly portable, like personal property. But it also contains valuable information, like intellectual property.

A happy winner of one of the registered Labrador puppies given away at the 2016 Mid-South Farm

“Those characteristics make ag data unique from other forms of property. Farmers can own real, personal, and intellectual property, but ag data is a hybrid of all three. Can we say the farmer owns his or her data? Yes, if the farmer owns the field, if the farmer owns the equipment that creates the data, and if the farmer generates the data.

“But when others are involved in creating that ag data form of property,” Janzen says, “ownership becomes a more difficult question. If you hear about a court or legislative body addressing this issue, please let me know. I can’t wait to see how the issue is perceived.”

In another blog, “How a 1940s Chicken Farmer Case Answered: Who Owns the Sky?,” Janzen recounts how a North Carolina poultryman, whose farm was in the glide path of a nearby military air base, took on the U.S. government for trespass by air. He muses on how some variation of that might apply to drones. Read his blog here.

TAGS: Management
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