Data ownership

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Data ownership is the philosophical and legal concept of an entity owning the rights to control access to a particular set or group of data.[1] Data ownership is typically handled in a legal setting and often associated with the question of copyright,[2] with the person or entity that has created the data in question possessing the above rights.[3] Data ownership refers to the rights of the creator of data as opposed to the subject of the data. Ownership also confers a variety of responsibilities to data owners regarding the maintenance and usability of that data.


Ownership of data is conventionally assumed to belong to the entity that generated or purchased it.[4] Universities and other research labs are assumed to own the data of their employees.[3] Legally, data ownership is determined by the laws of the nation in which the data is being used. Laws concerning data ownership vary greatly not only from continent to continent, but also from nation to nation.


American laws consider research data to be intellectual property and therefore qualifies for the same legal protections of copyright.[2] In addition, research data is often assumed to be the property of the institution that commissioned the research through a process known as "works for hire".[3]


Each of the individual members of the European Union as well as non-member countries are required to develop their own laws on data ownership.

United Kingdom[edit]

Data ownership is not officially offered through any statues. Offenses introduced in the 1990 Computer Misuse Act, which was developed in order to make hacking illegal, and includes an offense for unauthorized access to computer materials.[5]


Personal data ownership is covered under the 1978 Data Protection Act (Loi Informatique et Libertés). Laws concerned with access to and ownership of data do not exist.[5]


No specific rights have been implemented via statute into German law, but personal information are protected in the "Right to Personality"[5]


Laws in Spain that concern trade secrets prevent these secrets from being accessed illegally as determined in a 2008 Supreme Court decision.[5]


Ownership over a dataset allows an entity to control the sale of the data and the access to it.[4][6] Ownership of data also allows the owning entity to decide how to define and control the data and to determine how the data is to be used.[4] Owners of the data are not required to publish this data and are entitled to use it for their own purposes such as research.[3] Owners of data are able to gather it exclusively for the purposes of selling it to another entity through the purposes of "Works for Hire".[3][7]


Data ownership comes with the responsibility to maintain and manage the data.[7] Data owners are responsible for defining, compiling, managing both the sale, delivery distribution and security of the data.[4] Data ownership also comes with a responsibility to store the data, and keep the data up to date. This becomes more difficult with data types that update frequently. Because of the large amount of responsibility associated with the maintenance of the data, some data scientists such as Scofield (1998) argue that Data Ownership should be called Data stewardship. In order for data to be considered effective, the owner of the data has a responsibility to update it frequently in order to ensure the data is still relevant, come up with a system to categorize and make the data usable, and allow those looking to access the data to understand how to use it.[7]


Data ownership of some data can be highly controversial due to the rise of the quantifiable self=movement through fitness devices.[6] These devices allow users to measure heartbeat and other self-regulating statistics. The data generated by these devices are collected by the companies that produce them. Ethical concerns are raised due to the sale of these units of information.[8] Arguments for increased regulation of data ownership laws encourage more control over the sale of human data.[1] Concerns have also risen over how patient data must be handled. in 1991 Fishbein argued that patient and financial records should be made available to the subjects.[3]

Open data ownership[edit]

Government-owned data is typically expected to be open and freely available for public viewing in democratic countries.[9] Failure to make data free and available can result in the government's intent being questioned. The Open Knowledge Foundation, an international organization that specializes in data openness and freedom of access scores nations based on the openness of the data, with a higher score indicating that the data is more free or available. Open Data is still owned by the organization that created it in accordance with the legal definitions of the nation in question. Governments are not required to make their data open, but many nations have in order to improve transparency.


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Data Ownership". Retrieved 2017-11-28.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Cleary, Michelle; Jackson, Debra; Walter, Garry (2013-08-01). "Editorial: Research data ownership and dissemination: is it too simple to suggest that 'possession is nine-tenths of the law'?". Journal of Clinical Nursing. 22 (15–16): 2087–2089. doi:10.1111/jocn.12140. ISSN 1365-2702. PMID 23829401.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 Fishbein, E. A. (March 1991). "Ownership of research data". Academic Medicine. 66 (3): 129–133. ISSN 1040-2446. PMID 1997022.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 1963-, Loshin, David (2001). Enterprise knowledge management : the data quality approach. San Diego: Morgan Kaufmann. ISBN 978-0124558403. OCLC 43820637. Search this book on Logo.png
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 "Legal study on ownership and access to data : final report. Publications Office of the European Union". 2016-11-28. doi:10.2759/299944. Retrieved 2017-11-27.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Deborah, Lupton (2016-04-25). The quantified self : a sociology of self-tracking. Cambridge, UK. ISBN 9781509500604. OCLC 922155358. Search this book on Logo.png
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Frugoli, Julia; Etgen, Anne M.; Kuhar, Michael (2010-12-01). "Developing and Communicating Responsible Data Management Policies to Trainees and Colleagues". Science and Engineering Ethics. 16 (4): 753–762. doi:10.1007/s11948-010-9219-1. ISSN 1353-3452. PMID 20585892.
  8. Wissinger, Elizabeth (2017-11-01). "Wearable tech, bodies, and gender". Sociology Compass. 11 (11): n/a. doi:10.1111/soc4.12514. ISSN 1751-9020.
  9. "Open Knowledge International". Retrieved 2017-11-08.

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