Michigan State University

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Distribute your data

Before distributing your data it is important that you understand and plan for legal and ethical issues surrounding data use. Sharing data is something that is being encouraged by funding agencies, but it is a decision that needs to be made individually by the researchers who manage the data.

Plan for it!

A data management plan must address issues of intellectual property and ethics, especially if those issues impact the accessibility of data. It is also integral that a data management plan clearly details the steps that will be taken to protect the rights of research participants.

Protecting data

Intellectual Property:

Can you distribute your data? Data itself is not copyrightable in the U.S. However, expressions of data--such as tables or visualizations CAN be copyrightable. Licenses can also be granted to limit how data is used. Generally if you have collected the data yourself, you are able to share that data as well as license that data. If you are using data collected by someone else, you may or may not have the rights to share the data--depending on your license. Gray areas exist when data is collected using public funding or university funding, and care must be taken under these circumstances.


Researchers should be well aware of the ethical issues surrounding research, especially research with human subjects. Data containing private or sensitive information must be protected. This may involve processing data ("cleaning"), or it may involve strict access control.

Finding help at MSU

Negotiating legal and ethical guidelines and restrictions can be difficult, and researchers should become familiar with resources available to help at MSU.