What are the legal aspects of research data management?

Legal issues play an important role in data collecting and publication. In particular, data protection for interviews and the copyright of research data should be observed. First of all, it should be noted that, due to the highly individual character of research data, generally valid statements do not always apply. Nevertheless, the following explanations provide an overview of and a guideline on the topic. However, we also recommend that you either contact the research data officer at your institution or get in touch with us to discuss this matter in detail.


Personal rights and data protection of personal data

Interviews with contemporary witnesses or informants and the corresponding transcripts constitute an important source for research on Eastern Europe. Because of their highly individual character, publication as research data is a useful tool for secondary analyses.

Nonetheless, in the case of data containing personal details of individuals such as their name, gender, age, or religious affiliation, the rules of data protection must be observed and personal rights respected. Obtaining informed consent in the form of a declaration of consent has established itself as a standard practice in such cases. It describes how the interview, observation and survey data is handled and, in the event of publication, how pseudonyms or anonymisation will be guaranteed. In this way, a binding agreement on the use of data can be reached for both sides.

The topic is described in detail on the following pages:

If you have any queries regarding the implementation of research projects that work with interview and survey data of living persons, please feel free to contact us at:


Copyright in research data

Copyright arises in the case of published works when these have a certain level of authorship, i.e., when intellectual and creative achievements feed into their creation. This may, but need not, be the case with research data. For example, data from a series of measurements with laboratory equipment or the compilation of a table comprising existing statistics from several sources are not subject to copyright protection, whereas a detailed image analysis or a field diary are under copyright protection.

Copyright is of relevance because it makes it more difficult for other researchers to re-use data, so that a request for use would have to be made personally each time. The simplest solution is to “open” the data by issuing a corresponding licence, e.g. one of the widespread Creative Commons licences.

When licensing copyrighted research data, it must also be considered whether the copyright is transferred to the employer, i.e. the supervisor or the employing institute, on the basis of corresponding provisions in the employment contract.

The topic is described in detail under:


Licensing upon publication

Research data should be freely usable in the spirit of the Open Science concept. Special licences exist to ensure legally compliant use for authors and users. The licence models “CC Zero” or “CC BY” from the Creative Commons licence family, for example, allow for largely unrestricted access. In this case, data authors release their research data for subsequent use and researchers can quickly see how the research data may be used under the terms of such standardised licences.

In the case of research data with sensitive personal data, however, access via a licence may of course also be restricted.

The topic is described in detail under:

We will be pleased to support you in choosing the licensing model that best suits your research data requirements.


Dr Arnošt Štanzel

Email: arnost.stanzel(at)bsb-muenchen.de

Phone: +49 (0)89/28638-2832