Our lab performed 3D scans of materials (e.g. metals, rocks etc.) produced by other institutions and universities. But I am also interested in other analyses.

I was wondering who has the copyright on the data, the one who acquired the data (the person who performed the analyses, collecting the actual data and metadata, in this case, me), the person/institution who created the materials that were scanned, or the one who provided the materials?

I waited for more than one year, now I would like to make the data public, and I would like to understand if I own the copyright of the worked that I carried out.

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    Sounds like a discussion to have with a lawyer.
    – Anyon
    Commented Jul 1, 2020 at 16:02
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    Data cannot be copyrighted. In US copyright law at least.
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Jul 1, 2020 at 16:03
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    It's very likely that you have absolutely no right to publish that data your lab acquired. Contact your institute's legal department to clarify what you are allowed to do.
    – user9482
    Commented Jul 1, 2020 at 16:34
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    I’m not an expert, I only know what’s in that article. Copyright law is pretty complicated, law.se may be a better place to ask about this.
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Jul 1, 2020 at 16:39
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    Please clarify what you mean by "acquired." You said it was produced by other universities. Typically, I would say that they "acquired" the data. You just downloaded it, no? Commented Jul 1, 2020 at 16:59

2 Answers 2


Copyright almost certainly isn't the correct legal basis here (IANAL, so take that with a grain of salt, but as comments have pointed out, data is not subject to copyright in many jurisdictions), so I would suggest dropping that part of your thinking. The issue is not whether you have copyright of something produced, but whether you were allowed to use the materials you were provided to produce publicly available data.

Usually when materials pass between entities, including between universities or between a private company and a university, they are subject to a Material Transfer Agreement (MTA). This is a contract that specifies what can and can't be done with provided materials.

In the absence of such an agreement, there may be some implied rights but it might be best to go ahead and secure an MTA after the fact, or at a minimum get some informal agreement that you can use to protect yourself. Otherwise, you're in a situation where you are at the mercy of those who may be upset by your actions, which could start an academic or legal dispute that you don't want to be involved in.

(note: I'm assuming there is something somewhat special about these materials such that you could not have obtained them from other sources)


First, IANAL so keep that in mind.

Copyright only applies to artistic or creative work so it's going to depend on what you mean by data. The general rule is that "mere information" can't be copyrighted. The canonical example is the phone book. You can copyright the way the information in one is expressed or presented but you can't copyright the information itself. It sounds like you've got something similar in the measurements that you've taken from these samples.

With that said, copyright is a complex area of the law and situations that may seem simple to a non-lawyer may actually be quite complex. If you're at all unsure, your best bet is to contact a lawyer.

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    Not any lawyer - the university undoubtedly has people on staff whose job this is (probably don't have to pay them either, but no promises). Commented Jul 2, 2020 at 14:50

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