Copyright, licensing and intellectual property issues for data

Data ownership and control issues can be complex. Duke policy grants ownership of research data and materials to Duke University (Faculty Handbook, Section 5.2.3.4 and Appendix P). However, the principal investigator generally retains the rights and responsibilities over control and licensing of data and related materials.

When data is originally produced, distribution is generally at the discretion of the principal investigator — barring any limits imposed by confidentiality agreements or funding agency restrictions.

When data is compiled from other sources, the rights for use in research projects is limited by the conditions set forth by the authors of the data. The key to archiving is to adequately protect your rights (including the right to share as broadly as you wish and as your field expects) without infringement of the rights of others. Federal and government data sources generally impose few conditions. Researchers may impose stringent requirements in some cases.

Key Points

In general:

  • Be fully aware of the circumstances under which you have the right to use and share data produced by others. In some cases, archiving can be achieved through aggregation or the removal of information that identifies individual research subjects.

  • Journal publications or funding agencies may impose further restrictions or requirements on the distribution of research data. Duke University requires the retention of all research data and records that are produced from funded research and from unfunded research that results in publication or that involves the use of animals or human subjects for a minimum of five years after final reporting or publication, barring these other requirements.

  • For compiled or originally produced data, the Interuniversity Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) advises that public archives provide one avenue to meet data sharing expectations without the transfer of copyright or ownership rights held by Duke University (ICPSR 2009:9).

  • Duke University and funding agencies have the rights to access and review, but the principal investigator retains control of the data.

Open Data Licenses

When applying a license to your own data, you are encouraged to make it as open as appropriate in order to enable others to use and build on your data.

More information on data licensing and open data licenses:

Additional Help

For questions about copyright, licensing and intellectual property issues, contact Kevin Smith in the Office of Scholarly Communications.