Why are some academic research datasets not available to people who only have freely available email addresses?

For example, ImageNet is not available to people only have freely available email addresses:

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  • 2
    In the case of ImageNet, it seems the reason is to prevent commercial research/educational use, as ImageNet does not own the copyright of the images. Jan 5, 2017 at 23:29
  • @101010111100 wouldn't having a research/educational use license be enough? Jan 5, 2017 at 23:31
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    I suppose it's easier to verify you are part of a certain organization by using an email address with a domain which belongs to that organization. It's relatively easy to impersonate people with freely available email addresses. In fact, many places these days require university or company email addresses, exactly for the above reason. Jan 5, 2017 at 23:49
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    @daniel.neumann I see. I guess that's too bad for people willing to perform research without any commercial intent but not affiliated to any universities (e.g., high school students, retirees, hobbyists, etc.). But that'd answer my question, so you're welcome to convert your comment into an answer. Jan 6, 2017 at 0:46
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    @101010111100 care to turn that comment into an answer?
    – Cape Code
    Jan 6, 2017 at 12:51

1 Answer 1


If the owner/hoster of a database wants to provide that data only to a certain group of people (e.g. researchers, EU-citizens) and wants to keep the administrative overhead as low as possible, he has two possibilities:

  • open the database for everyone, put it under a specific license and a trust that the data is only used according to that license

  • provide only access to people with email addresses from a specific domain (i.e. official research institutions)

Verifying each registered user personally would be to much work.

The second way is a common concept for scientific databases. Some databases have a two step model (I think, ECMWF uses it): you can register with every email address but you cannot access all the data.

Often, there is no bad faith behind these restrictions. The server capacities might not be sufficient to provide the service to each possible user or the data (pictures, texts, ...) are provided by third parties, who only want to provide those data for free for a certain audience.

  • I don't think the first item is a realistic way of achieving the desired goal. I think it would even be seen as negligent.
    – Cape Code
    Jan 6, 2017 at 5:45
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    @CapeCode Hmm, isn't that how open source or creative commons licences work? We put code online on GitHub for everybody to see under, for instance, GPL, and just assume that companies will not violate the specific terms of the licence we put forward?
    – xLeitix
    Jan 6, 2017 at 10:41
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    @daniel.neumann I don't know about "evil" but OP clearly said on other threads that he thinks accessing content against the will of its owner is fair game. So clearly people will disregard a rule that says "you may only download if you're member of an academic institution we recognize".
    – Cape Code
    Jan 6, 2017 at 12:46
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    @xLeitix that seem to be two different issues. CC licensing is an attempt at preventing content to be used in a certain way, while the issue here is restricting access to the content all together.
    – Cape Code
    Jan 6, 2017 at 12:47
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    @FranckDernoncourt if it's very easy to circumvent, then how is it a problem? I didn't comment on the efficiency of the measure, I guess it's a relatively cheap way of filtering who access the DB. It's obviously not perfect.
    – Cape Code
    Jan 6, 2017 at 12:50

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