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When is research data protected?

Research data are likely to be a ‘bundle’ of different types of information and content, sourced from third parties, or created by the researcher. Research data may be factual and/or creative. Data as such, like facts, principles, mathematical concepts and methods are not protected by copyright. However, there are cases in which data, not as such but part of collections, can be protected. Additionally, whereas data as such are not protected by copyright, that does not mean data are not protected by other laws (e.g. confidential information or personal data). This guide will offer guidance in this area with a specific focus on research data.

This information guide will focus on those elements of research data that, might be automatically protected by intellectual property rights such as copyright protected works and databases protected by copyright and/or the Sui Generis Database Right (SGDR).

How do rules on research data impact on use?

Research data may be:

  • Automatically protected by the law;
  • Regulated by contract;
  • Subject to community norms such as academic best practices.

Multiple types of protection might exist in research data, or there may be elements that have no legal protection. As explained in this information guide, the default position is that the owners of protected rights can restrict the use of those rights. Licensing is a way to stipulate when and how protected rights in research data can be used by others. Before thinking about licensing or using research data, it is important to understand the rights that can arise automatically in research data. The rest of this guide will discuss copyright and the database right. Sui Generis Database Right – SGDR is a right protecting databases where there has been a substantial investment in obtaining, verifying or presenting the data.

Copyright is a property right in certain types of original literary, artistic and scientific works. Copyright does not protect ideas. Confidentiality protects confidential information. This might be imposed by a contract or if the information is marked confidential. Use of confidential information might give rise to a claim for compensation if confidentiality is breached. Data Subject Rights arise in information that identifies individuals and are recognised by data protection laws in the EU. Patents are registered rights in novel inventions of products or processes. Patent protection is not specifically discussed in this FAQs. Some research data may not benefit from any legal protection, although moral and ethical considerations may apply.