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Mapping ownership of data

First version, E. Hoorn LLM, University of Groningen


Clarity on the possibilities to take decisions on research data in different scenarios is of preconditional importance. In more complex situations, it may be necessary to obtain additional – customised – legal advice in order to make good and legally valid contractual agreements between all parties involved. Currently, a plethora of principles and regulations on the issue exist, but no clear picture emerges from them. As a preparation for the workshops, what follows is a first attempt to bring together the relevant sources of regulations.

For decisions in concrete cases, the following should for example be taken into account:

  1. Contractual agreements on stewardship of research data, in addition to arrangements concerning exploitation of Intellectual Property now being made in collaboration agreements; [1]
  2. The nature and origin of the data (pictures protected under copyright law, for example, or open data covered by an end-user licenses);
  3. The intended purpose (control, further research, or publication) and the current phase in the ‘data life cycle’;
  4. Prevailing customs in the field, as evidenced by field-specific norms, standards of conduct and the policies of scientific journals;
  5. Ethical and legal considerations, especially in the publication of data, for which the opt-out grounds in the EU open data pilot [2] might provide a framework;
  6. The possibility of applying technical solutions (such as privacy by design) to prevent legal issues.


An initial inventory of regulations:

a)    The current Collective Labour Agreement (CAO), which contains no direct provisions on the control of research data. With regard to other intellectual property rights, however, it determines that employees should observe the instructions given by their employer. In addition, database rights provide for a form of control for anyone who invests substantially in the creation of a database (see Appendix A).

b)   The demand of grant providers such as NWO for a data management plan at an early stage in each research project, to ensure proper data management. In addition, in its 2014 grants regulation, NWO states with regard to the control of data files that the provider of funds and the university or research institute are considered together to be the ‘database producer’. The university or research institute can only properly sort out the matter of control if clear internal agreements have been made (see Appendix B).

c)    The generally applicable instructions on proper data management in the 2014 version of VSNU’s Code of Conduct for Scientific Practice. For example, in its elaboration on the principle of verifiability it requires a ten-year retention period (see Appendix C).
(Note that ALLEA’s European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity contains similar standards [3].)

d)   The new national Standard Evaluation Protocol 2015-2019, which contains a question on dealing with “raw and processed data” in the section on “research integrity” (see Appendix D).

e)    Provisions in PhD regulations, such as the University of Groningen’s PhD regulations, which contain a provision requiring the storage of research data for use in further research (see Appendix E).

f)     The Public Records Act. Whether this Act is entirely applicable to research data is up for debate. However, the Act does contain important benchmarks for the proper preservation of archives, which are also relevant to the storage of research data (see Appendix F).

g)    The contractual dissemination measures of beneficiaries within the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme and measures related to the pilot for sharing open [4] data. (See Appendix G for a selection of relevant articles of the Model Grant Agreement).

[1] See Recommendation 78 of the LERU Roadmap for data management:

It is important to identify the owner of the data: the researcher, funder or institution. Responsibilities for stewardship of the data both during a project (if the work is project-based) and when funding has come to an end should also be clear. In cases of multi-party research projects (for example 7 university, 2 business and 3 government agencies working on one project) the partnership agreement which underpins the collaboration before the research starts should identify how resulting research data will be managed and who owns it.

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