As a researcher, have you ever considered whether you have the ownership to the data you may have complied and based your research on? In the Office of Research Integrity’s Introduction to the Responsible Conduct of Research, the issue of data ownership is named as an unresolved and controversial issue in data management. (Section 6e.)

The term ownership in this context entails both the possession of and responsibility for information. The possession implies the control over its access, creation, modification and etc., and the right to assign these privileges. But it also means accountability for the piece of data.

Between academics and educational or research institutions, the policy regarding data ownership varies. Section 2.4 of the HKU Policy on Research Integrity provides that individual researchers enjoy the right to hold copies of the data for their own use. It recognises that the researcher as creator or packager who adds value to the data should have the claim.  The HKU Policy on Management of Research Data and Records (2015), para 5, elaborates as follows:

5.    Research data and records should be retained for as long as they are of continuing value to the researcher and the wider research community, and as long as specified by research funder, patent law, legislative and other regulatory requirements.  The minimum retention period for research data and records is three years after publication or public release of the work of the research.  In many instances, researchers will resolve to retain research data and records for a longer period than the minimum requirement.

On the contrary, research data obtained in studies carried out at the University of Pittsburgh is deemed to belong to the university who is also held accountable for the integrity of the data. Neither the researcher who generates the data nor the principal investigator enjoys the ownership. (Section 3.c.) The reason given by the university is that the sponsored research awards are granted to the university instead of the researchers. The University of British Columbia adopts a hybrid position by holding that the university and the researcher jointly own the data.

The situation becomes especially complex when it concerns research conducted by academics but funded by corporate sponsors. Usually there are potential huge benefits that come with the data while each party has a valid reason to claim the ownership. This issue will become increasingly controversial as technology advances. A single experiment will generate a far greater amount of data than before, the value of which may prove to be greater than the research itself.  The HKU Policy on Management of Research Data and Records (2015), para 6, makes clear that “[w]here research is supported by a contract with or a grant to the University that includes specific provisions regarding ownership, retention of and access to data, the provisions of that agreement will take precedence”.



Data Ownership (n.d.) Responsible conduct in data management. Retrieved October 26, 2016 from

Graduate School, The University of British Columbia. (n.d.) Ownership of data. Retrieved October 26, 2016 from

Offices of Research Integrity, University of Pittsburgh. (2011). Guidelines fro responsible conduct of research. Retrieved October 26, 2016 from

Steneck, N. H. (2004). ORI introduction to the responsible conduct of research. Rockville, MD: U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, Office of Research Integrity.