Data and copyright
Copyright protection of research data
Who owns the copyright in research data? 
Protection under database rights
Reusing the research data of others

Data and copyright 

If you want to use research data from others, the role of copyright is explained below. The protection of research data by database rights is also discussed. An important source in this regard is the report 'De juridische status van ruwe data: een wegwijzer voor de onderzoekspraktijk' [The legal status of raw data: a guide to research practice]. This report explains how research data can be protected and gives an overview of the most important legislation and case law. The report was written by the Centre for Intellectual Property Rights (CIER) on behalf of SURF in 2009. 

Raw research data is not protected by copyright. Copyright only protects works that show a certain degree of originality and creativity (the creator's personal stamp). However, you may be a rightsholder of certain research data if the data is eligible for protection because of its format. 

Generally speaking, raw research data (facts and figures) can be protected in the following cases:  

  • The facts and figures are written in subjectively determined original wording. 
  • The facts and figures are presented in an otherwise subjectively determined, original way. 
  • The facts and figures are selected from a larger set of data. 
  • The facts and figures constitute a database in the legal sense of the word (database rights). 

Who owns the copyright in research data? 

If research data is created under employment and protected by copyright, the employer is considered as the creator and therefore copyright holder. In principle, however, most research universities consider the researcher to be the rightsholder and therefore make the necessary arrangements with the researcher in this regard.

Protection under database rights 

A collection of data may be protected by database rights. Database rights are independent of copyrights, but they are not mutually exclusive. Databases protection is not about the creativity or originality of the database or its content, but about the investment made to collect the data: that investment must be protected. Database rights can therefore also be of interest for collections of research data. 

If the database is protected, you have to obtain the creator's permission to: 

  • retrieve, i.e. copy or download, substantial parts of the database; 
  • repeatedly and systematically retrieve non-substantial parts of the database; 
  • reuse or disclose substantial parts of the database.

Permission is not required if you are using: 

  • a scientific research database, provided that no substantial parts of the database are disclosed (reuse); 
  • government databases, unless the database expressly states otherwise. 

Reusing the research data of others 

If you want to use research data of others, one useful tool is the abbreviated guide in Chapter 1 of 'De juridische status van ruwe data: een wegwijzer voor de onderzoekspraktijk' [The legal status of raw data: a guide to research practice]. As a researcher, you can use this guide to quickly determine what permission is required to (re)use research data from others. The guide is primarily based on what you want to do with the data. Please note that this guide is a summary and does not replace the legal guidelines. 

If you want to reuse significant parts of a database, you have to obtain permission to do this. In principle, government databases (and databases produced by government institutions!) – about laws, regulations and case law, for example – are not subject to database rights unless they expressly state otherwise. This doesn't apply to databases of other (commercial) producers, even if they only contain government data. 

In scientific publications, it is allowed to cite someone else’s work without permission under certain conditions. This is called the right to quote. The right to quote also applies to protected research data. The most important rules you must observe in this respect are: 

  • The creator and the source must be stated. 
  • The size of the citation must be proportionate to the purpose. 
  • The cited information (or work) must have been lawfully disclosed. 
  • The citation must be justified in the context of your work. This means there must be a connection between the cited work and its context within your work.