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Nowadays, there were many data published online and with papers, such as PLoS journal. I am wondering can I use those data to perform my analysis and if so, do I need permission of those authors to publish my results? Thanks.

Edits: The data I am trying to use is the supplementary data that provided by the article. The field I am working on is epidemiology. All comments are appreciated.

  • The analysis will be on what? The published results on article or supplementary data provided by them? – Coder Apr 29 '17 at 19:19
  • What field are you talking about? For example, political science data is mostly public and you can use it, provided you acknowledge the source. – henning -- reinstate Monica Apr 29 '17 at 19:26
  • Maybe also have a look at academia.stackexchange.com/questions/89624/… – asquared May 31 '17 at 11:39
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They've published their data. The way academia works is that people build on other people's work. You're just expected to reference their work properly.

Copyright is not particularly relevant here. Copyright law varies from country to country, but in any case copyright does not prohibit you from, e.g., adding two numbers just because those two numbers appeared in a copyrighted paper. Here in the US, copyright applies to the presentation of a work, not to ideas or data. For example, telephone directories have been found not to be copyrightable in the US. Since copyright is not very relevant, neither is licensing. Copyright law is specifically constructed so that it will not interfere with activities like scholarly commentary.

You will of course want to behave well toward the people whose data you're using. It won't hurt to talk it over with them. They know it intimately, and they may be able to warn you against misinterpreting it. For example, you don't want to be in the position of publishing a "gee whiz, amazing!" conclusion based on their data, only to find later that it was a misunderstanding. It may be appropriate for them to be coauthors on any resulting paper. Even if the purpose of your analysis is to contradict the conclusions they drew from their own data, it still doesn't hurt you to tell them what you're doing, and be above board and respectful.

  • Your answer concentrates on extracing data from an article, what is in fact not prohibited by copyright. But when we're talking about published data, like datasets published as supplementary data in a journal or in a repository, e.g. in Zenodo, one can add a license to the data. Example: doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.495610 – FuzzyLeapfrog Apr 30 '17 at 22:01
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    @FuzzyLeapfrog: I don't think your comment is correct. Have you read the linked question on law.SE? The fact that some web site lets you add a license to your data does not mean that such a license is enforceable under US copyright law. – Ben Crowell May 2 '17 at 0:59
  • Maybe we should clarify the basic assumption we made to answer this question: What kind of data are we talking about? Is it raw data, like measured numbers? Is it processed data, like evaluated measurements arranged in a specific structure? Is it a collection of answers of patients to a questionnaire and its statistical evaluation? The answer to OP's question highly depends on the data/database, see e.g. wiki.creativecommons.org/wiki/… and might also vary with time and the country we're talking about. – FuzzyLeapfrog May 2 '17 at 1:43
  • @FuzzyLeapfrog: I agree, that kind of clarification might be helpful. – Ben Crowell May 2 '17 at 20:22
  • Why are you bringing up copyright as a straw man? No one else brought it up but you. IANAL as well, but I think the relevant legal issues are related to intellectual property, not copyright. Data that are presented with a particular license are not simply publicly available, they are available under that license. You may be agreeing to that license when you download that data. That said, I fully agree with your third paragraph and I think that's a better overall answer, and the reason other answers also say "ask first": it isn't all about legal issues, but operating in a community of respect. – Bryan Krause May 30 '17 at 22:51
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The whole meta-analysis field would collapse if data extraction from published sources was not allowed, was restricted, or required permissions to be sought from the copyright holder.

It is also important that data cannot be copyrighted. Copyright is restricted to expressive and creative outputs, not measurements. So, if you are drawing from a raw data source, you do not have to ask permission. It is however standard practise to acknowledge the source of the data, which gives credit to the original gatherers of the data and lets those that read your output know where you got the data.

Note, it is possible to get a doi for your data when you post it on platforms such as figshare or zenodo. If the original authors have done so, then cite the data source, not the paper accompanying paper (unless you also refer to the outcome of the work).

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The data published in most journals/repositories have licenses - as published articles have. So you have to check individually what the license of the data you want to use allows and what it doen't.

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    I don't think this is right, for the reasons explained in my answer. But IANAL, and it's possible that we could discuss and clarify this issue further. – Ben Crowell Apr 30 '17 at 21:35
  • @BenCrowell Your answer concentrates on extracing data from an article, what is in fact not prohibited by copyright. But when we're talking about published data, like datasets published as supplementary data in a journal or in a repository, e.g. in Zenodo, one can add a license to the data. Example: doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.495610 – FuzzyLeapfrog Apr 30 '17 at 22:03
  • You posted an identical comment under my own answer. I responded there. – Ben Crowell May 2 '17 at 1:01
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If you want to use a data, you should ask the publisher to get the agreement of use it. This is the same as any figure that you want to use. You should ask for permission because some journals does not give that permission even it is published.

  • I wasn't the downvoter, but I think this is probably wrong, for the reasons explained in my own answer. But IANAL, and it's possible that we could discuss and clarify this issue further. – Ben Crowell Apr 30 '17 at 21:37
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    I don't think wrong because this is one of the academic ethics. It is published and u can use it but written licences is important to show to some Journals. I used one figure for drilling machine from a journal and the editors asked for permission to use this picture. It depends on Journal and we cannot judge if wrong or right – YAcaCsh Apr 30 '17 at 21:54
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    I see. I read your answer as an answer revolving around copyright law, not ethics. This is the same as any figure that you want to use. These two cases are not analogous, because figures are copyrightable, but data are not. you should ask the publisher to get the agreement of use it. This seems to me more like a legal issue than an ethical one. The ethical issues all revolve around how you deal with the author, not the publisher. – Ben Crowell May 1 '17 at 23:45
  • I cannot say copyrights law because it is difference from one journal to other. Therefore, I think it is good to say ethics of the author to have permissions of his paper figures, data, etc... to be ready for any circumstances. – YAcaCsh May 2 '17 at 6:41
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Published data is public. This is essential to the proper functioning of science. Others can examine and re-analyze the data, challenge existing interpretations, and test new theories.

It is nice to let the authors know that you would like to analyze their data, and to show them the results for comment before submitting a paper, but it is not required (formally, or by academic custom) that you do so. The only non-negotiable requirement is that you properly cite the source of the data.

It is indeed a sign of progress that more studies make their data available in easy-to-use formats. I remember the days when we xeroxed plots on graph paper in order to extract numerical data.

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