Is research data protected by copyright?

February 2, 2024

Published research data allow you to search for and find data to reuse in your research. However, even though the data are publicly and openly available, they may still be copyright protected. Thus, their licence, i.e. terms of use, should be adhered to. In this article, we explain more about the specifics of copyright on data.

Copyrighted or public domain?

A work is defined as a perceptible manifestation of a certain ‘mental creation’ or creativity. To receive copyright protection, the work must meet two requirements. It must:

  • have an original character of its own, which means that work is not borrowed from other works.
  • bear the personal stamp of the author/creator, which means that it is the result of a person’s creativity.

You can present data and make them available in different forms, for example, as graphs, diagrams, discussions in text, a list of numbers, or as a collection in a database. Depending on its form, the data could be protected by copyright or database right.

Unprotected research data - Bare facts, or factual research data, are not protected by copyright because they do not fit the abovementioned criteria, for example, when you present a series of measurements in a table in a way that anyone could create a similar table.

Copyright-protected research data – Research data become copyright-protected when you process bare facts into a form of expression for which personal/subjective choices are made, for example, when you design and visualise data in a diagram or graph, when you discuss research data in a research article, or when you make a specific selection of data or arrange the data in a specific manner. When reusing these works, you need to adhere to the applied licence. Note: when you extract data points – bare facts – from, for example, a graph, the data points are not copyright protected.

Database right – When a database consists of independent items, is searchable or is systematically arranged to trace individual items and the database requires a substantial investment (e.g. time and/or money), database right applies. Database right protects you against third parties that wish to use large portions of the database or use it without consent or payment. However, when a database fits the abovementioned criteria for a work, it is subject to copyright protection.

Support & More information

For more information, please visit the Copyright Information Point or email the Copyright Information specialists.