where government has responsibility for public health and well-being, such as environmental quality regulations or the legal responsibility of manufacturers for product harms. In these areas, the role of research is increasingly being challenged by those who oppose particular regulations, laws, or legal rulings.27 These cases raise important and difficult questions: When are researchers justified in withholding underlying data and methods? What recourse do colleagues, policy makers, and the public have when data or methods underlying research on important policy issues are withheld? What is the line between harassment that unreasonably slows the pace of research and justified requests for information?
These trends point to the need for clearer standards and understandings between researchers, their employers, and the public about the overarching value of openness, as well as the circumstances under which requests or demands for data are reasonable and when they cross the line into the realm of harassment that can slow the advance of knowledge. There are important and complex questions about how to balance the need for important data to be widely accessible, with fundamental issues of academic freedom, confidentiality, and the need for researchers to carry out their studies free of harassment, intimidation, or outside pressure.
Addressing the question of “who owns research data” is a key element of the authoring committee’s charge. There is a range of possible answers, including the researcher, the institution, the sponsor, or nobody, depending on the particular meaning of “ownership” and the context. This section will review the laws and policies relevant to the ownership of research data and related rights to control its dissemination and use. The next section will cover other laws and policies related to research data, focusing on obligations to keep or share data.
To begin with, general principles of property law apply to the media on which data are stored and may also apply to the bits themselves in the case of digital data. One analogy is to the master recording in the music business when analog technology dominated. The owner of the master tape has a property right in the object but does not necessarily own the copyright that controls the copying and distribution of the data stored in the recording. Similarly, the researcher, his or her institution, or the sponsor (depending on the terms of the research grant or contract) may own the medium on which the data are stored.
More important, for the purposes of this discussion, than ownership of the physical storage media are intellectual property rights in a database (some