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Sharing data: legal and policy considerations

Best Practice: 

All research requires the sharing of information and data. The general philosophy is that data are freely and openly shared. However, funding organizations and institutions may require that their investigators cite the impact of their work, including shared data. By creating a usage rights statement and including it in data documentation, users of your data will be clear what the conditions of use are, and how to acknowledge the data source.

Include a statement describing the "usage rights" management, or reference a service that provides the information. Rights information encompasses Intellectual Property Rights (IPR), copyright, cost, or various Property Rights. For data, rights might include requirements for use, requirements for attribution, or other requirements the owner would like to impose. If there are no requirements for re-use, this should be stated.

Usage rights statements should include what are appropriate data uses, how to contact the data creators, and acknowledge the data source. Researchers should be aware of legal and policy considerations that affect the use and reuse of their data. It is important to provide the most comprehensive access possible with the fewest barriers or restrictions.

There are three primary areas that need to be addressed when producing sharable data:

  1. Privacy and confidentiality: Adhere to your institution's policy
  2. Copyright and intellectual property (IP): Data is not copyrightable. Ensure that you have the appropriate permissions when using data that has multiple owners or copyright layers. Keep in mind that information documenting the context of data collection may be under copyright.
  3. Licensing: Data can be licensed. The manner in which you license your data can determine its ability to be consumed by other scholars. For example the Creative Commons Zero License provides for very broad access.

If your data falls under any of the categories below there are additional considerations regarding sharing:

  • Rare, threatened or endangered species
  • Cultural items returned to their country of origin
  • Native American and Native Hawaiian human remains and objects
  • Any research involving human subjects

If you use data from other sources, you should review your rights to use the data and be sure you have the appropriate licenses and permissions.

Description Rationale: 

When sharing data, or using data shared by others, researchers should be aware of any policies that might affect the use of the data. Including a usage rights statement makes clear to data repository users what the conditions of use are, and how to acknowledge the data source.

Additional Information: 

ICPSR Confidentiality Review

17 U.S.C. Sec. 102

Feist Publications, Inc v. Rural Telephone Service Co., Inc., 499 U.S. 340, 245 (1991)

NIH Data Sharing Policy

University of Virginia Library's Data Rights and Responsibilities Guidance

LTER Data Policy


Copyright 2001 Regents of the University of California Santa Barbara. Free for use by all individuals provided that the owners are acknowledged in any use or publication.

Margaret O'Brien
Rebecca Lubas
Ruth Duerr
Todd Grappone
Trisha Cruse