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Research Data Management: Legal Considerations

Research guide to serve as a portal to data repositories, agency and funder requirements, tutorials, and DMPTool.


At the beginning of the research data lifecycle, researchers should consider any ethical concerns around the collected, created, or re-used data. These considerations can help make data more shareable:

  • If re-using data, researchers need to identify the owner of the data and their conditions for use.
  • If re-using data, avoid plagiarism.
  • Researchers should always provide appropriate attribution and citation when re-using data.

When creating data sets using human subjects, note that humans require confidentiality considerations and a commitment to ethically sharing data. Researchers should first check with their institution's Institutional Review Board (IRB) to see if IRB approval is needed before collecting data from human subjects.

Clark Atlanta University IRB
Morehouse College IRB
Morehouse School of Medicine IRB
Spelman College IRB



As researchers approach the end of the research data lifecycle, they have the option of making data freely available through open access and public domain. Agencies and funders are increasingly requiring that researchers release their research data.

By using a Creative Commons CC0 License or an Open Data Commons Public Domain Dedication and License (PDDL) researchers can allow others to use their data sets within specific parameters. Researchers can also sign up for an Open Researcher and Contributor ID (ORCID). ORCID is a unique persistent identifier which enables name disambiguation and tracking of the researcher's scholarly production across name or institution change. This enhances findability, allowing others to easily locate and cite the data.

For researchers planning to use data sets in the public domain, visit Copyright and Intellectual Property Toolkit: Public Domain which contains information on how to determine if an item is in the public domain. They should also read the Copyright and Intellectual Property Toolkit: Fair Use to find out if you can make a Fair Use argument to use another researcher's data set. Using another researcher's data sets may specifically fall under Fair Use: Transformative Use.

Copyright and Licensing options will differ according to the type of data in the researcher's data sets. Considerations include quantitative data which by itself may not be placed under copyright but when arranged and coordinated into a data set may be subject to copyright. Specific information on what can be under copyright can be found at Copyright Basics from the U.S. Copyright Office and the U.S. Copyright Office Report on Legal Protection for Databases. Qualitative data on the other hand, are often creative works which are subject to copyright.


▶ Five Things You Need to Know About Research Data Management and the Law: DCC Checklist on Legal Aspects of RDM: HTML | PDF

▶ Ethical Guidelines to Publication of Chemical Research: PDF

▶ What Is Ethics in Research & Why Is It Important?: HTML

▶ University of Michigan, Research Ethics & Compliance: Data Security Guidelines: HTML