Ownership of research data

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The author reviews the conventional “works for hire” principle that an institution, not its employees, owns the rights to its employees' written products or other forms of expression, including primary research data. This principle is not open to debate as a legal matter. The tough problems giving rise to debates regarding data ownership and access are ethical problems rather than legal ones; these will remain unsettled for some time because at present there is no consensus concerning what constitutes ethical conduct among scholars and scientists and how seriously and in what manner to penalize breaches of that conduct. Access to data is a thorny issue; case histories illustrate the legal and ethical difficulties involved in questions of who has access to information compiled in the course of academic inquiry, and for what purpose. Much depends on the ethics and established procedures of the employing institution, but current case law suggests that a faculty member or institutional researcher does not have any legal right to review the data developed by a colleague. The author recommends that institutions clearly state their policies regarding ownership of data, and presents guidelines for such a policy.

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