I am curious to know whether there exists any data set that forces users to publicly release any source code written to analyse it.

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    I'm not sure that such a restriction would even be legally enforceable.
    – aeismail
    Commented May 31, 2015 at 17:46
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    @aeismail I am not sure either but I would tend to think that if a contract has to be signed to access the data set then one might add a clause to force users to release the code. Commented May 31, 2015 at 17:54
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    I am wondering if analyzing data to produce aggregate results would count as a "remix" for creative commons licenses. Commented May 31, 2015 at 18:01
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    So the owner of a proprietary data set would demand that software used to analyze it be open-source? Talk about hypocrisy!
    – aeismail
    Commented May 31, 2015 at 18:15
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    @aeismail Sure, but that just means that you can't use commercial tools to analyze it. That's a limitation the license imposes, but it doesn't mean the license is impossible or unenforceable.
    – Roger Fan
    Commented May 31, 2015 at 19:58

3 Answers 3


Open data licenses apparently do exist, for instance, Open Data Commons maintains the ODbL. I don't think that this has a restriction on code used for analysis, but it does put a share-alike restriction on any derivative datasets.

If you publicly use any adapted version of this database, or works produced from an adapted database, you must also offer that adapted database under the ODbL.

This essentially ensures that the derived database (or steps used to create it) used for analysis must be shared, though not necessarily the analysis itself.

I imagine that you could modify this license to mandate that you share the steps used to create any work produced (i.e. the analysis code) as well under some kind of open license, but I am not a lawyer, and I did not find an existing license that does this in my (short) search. In particular, this could easily be troublesome if you use closed-source third-party software in your analysis (e.g. Stata, Matlab), though people have overcome similar issues with GPL licenses.


The data user agreement for this dataset (MIMIC/eICU) requires users to share their code. https://physionet.org/pnw/a/manage-duas :

If I openly disseminate my results, I will also contribute the code used to produce those results to a defined PhysioNet repository (physionet.org/physiotools/repository/) that is open to the research community.


I don't think that would work in the US, where facts cannot be copyrighted, so -- once you publicly publish data -- there's nothing stopping anybody else from republishing it in a different form. That might be plagiarism, but you can usually get around that by citing the source of your data.

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    Facts can not be copyrighted but a collection of facts can be, and if they can show that you mined their database they can indeed sue and win. (Common practice is to selectively add a few deliberately erroneous data points in a place where they don't cause trouble, to act as. A "smoking gun" to demonstrate the copyright violation)
    – keshlam
    Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 2:01
  • US federal law says trap streets are not copyrightable (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trap_street#Legal_issues) and that facts stolen from other sources don't by themselves create copyright violations (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trivial_Pursuit#Fred_Worth_lawsuit). However, obtaining facts in certain ways might be illegal, including data mining another database: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_scraping#Legal_issues
    – Gaurav
    Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 3:05
  • US law continues to evolve in this area. Understand copyright, and understand that a license agreement is a contract.
    – keshlam
    Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 3:34
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    @keshlam A collection of facts cannot be copyrighted in the US. The selection and arrangement of those facts can be, but only if there is at least a bare minimum amount of creativity in selecting and arranging those facts.
    – cpast
    Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 5:26
  • Also, the dataset does not have to be public. Many datasets are available by application. It could be a contractual condition of being given access to the data is that you have to share the code used to analyse it. Commented Mar 28, 2017 at 3:08

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