Data ownership

ORI Introduction to RCR: Chapter 6. Data Management Practices

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Research produces data. As a product, common sense might suggest that the person who conducts the research should own the product—the data. In fact, conditions imposed by funders, research institutions, and data sources may dictate otherwise.
 
Funders. Funders provide support for research for different reasons. Government is interested in improving the general health and welfare of society. Private companies are interested in profits, along with benefits to society. Philanthropic organizations are interested in advancing particular causes. These different interests translate into different ownership claims. Typically:
  • Government gives research institutions the right to use data collected with public funds as an incentive to put research to use for the public good (see the discussion of the Bayh-Dole Act, Chapter 5).
  • Private companies seek to retain the right to the commercial use of data.
  • Philanthropic organizations retain or give away ownership rights depending on their interests.
Since the claims of funders can and do vary considerably, researchers must be aware of their obligations to them before they begin collecting data.
 
With government funding, it is important to distinguish between grants and contracts. Under grants, researchers must carry out the research as planned and submit reports, but control of the data remains with the institution that received the funds (see below). Contracts require the researcher to deliver a product or service, which is then usually owned and controlled by the government. If your research is supported with government funds, make sure you know whether you are working under a grant or a contract. The difference is significant and could determine who has the right to publish and use your results.
 
Research institutions. Support for research istypically awarded to research institutions, not to individual researchers. As the recipients of research funds, research institutions have responsibilities for budgets, regulatory compliance, contractual obligations, and data management. To assure that they are able to meet these responsibilities, research institutions claim ownership rights over data collected with funds given to the institution. This means that researchers cannot automatically assume that they can take their data with them if they move to another institution. The research institution that received the funds may have rights and obligations to retain control over the data.
 
Data sources. Increasingly research subjects and other entities that are the source of data are seeking some control over data derived from them. Countries with unique resources, such as tropical rain forests, individuals with rare medical conditions, and entities with unique databases, have at one time or another claimed ownership of research results based on their data. Research subjects and entities that have or can be the source of important data may no longer be willing to provide or be the source of data without some ownership stake in the end results.
 
Well before any data are collected, ownership issues and the responsibilities that come with them need to be carefully worked out. Before undertaking any work, make sure you can answer the following questions:
  • Who owns the data I am collecting?
  • What rights do I have to publish the data?
  • Does collecting these data impose any obligations on me?
If you do not have firm answers for each of these questions, preferably in writing when financial interests are involved, you are not ready to begin your research.
 
It is also important to note that in most cases ownership provisions must be approved by the institution that receives and is responsible for the administration of research funds. Researchers therefore should not enter into agreements that affect the control and use of data without getting institutional approval. The results could be disastrous and expensive if ownership is disputed later.

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Source URL: https://ori.hhs.gov/content/Chapter-6-Data-Management-Practices-Data-ownership