My project is based on data hosted by a different university than the one where I used to work. When I requested the data, I understood that the work (and cost) to extract it from the database increases with the number of items I wanted. I had no research funds at the time and therefore asked for a rather small sample, with an informal agreement with the director of the inistitute that the person extracting the data would be my collaborator and coauthor.

Several months passed before I received the data and then the sample turned out to be too small to be really useful. I did not make another request as the data extraction process appeared so time-consuming. Instead, I moved on to work with other projects for a couple of years.

The data became relevant again when I started as a visiting researcher at this institute. Although I wasn't employed by the institute, I had direct access to the database and could download all of it in a matter of minutes. I expected that the person who extracted the first sample would be willing to collaborate on data classification and other things where he was an expert. Instead, he seemed hostile and would only answer to exactly what I asked, rather than make an attempt to be helpful.

The most recent development is that the institute made most of this database and classification open for anyone to download.

What should I do to get out of the original data use agreement? I feel trapped in a forced collaboration with a person with whom I'm not in speaking terms. I'm not in a position to renegotiate or entitled to any help from the institute, as it is not my employer.

I took this situation more seriously than anyone should, as my depression renewed and I went to psyhotherapy for nine months. That's telling something about the amount of time I have wasted with this dilemma.

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    So some guy sent you useless data a few years back and you promised to include him should there be any interesting results obtained from them? Now, you got the data yourself, without his help and far more than what he send you, and he doesn't want to work with you. Do I understand this correctly so far? If yes, the question is why you want to work with him at all. The data he provided was useless and you have free access to better and newer data, furthermore this was years ago. You could of course be nice and offer him collaboration, but if he declines, you shouldn't feel guilty about it.
    – Dirk
    Jul 13, 2017 at 13:51
  • Good point from @DirkLiebhold. Does the person want to collaborate and be a coauthor anyway?
    – Emilie
    Jul 13, 2017 at 16:58
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    @DirkLiebhold I made a promise and I'm not at all sure that his lack of interest releases me from my obligation to keep the promise. He could contribute to the paper in many other ways if he wanted to, but I haven't dared to ask directly. We are barely on speaking terms. Jul 13, 2017 at 17:23
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    If you want to hold up your promise, write him an email that, according to said agreement from a few years back, you invite him to collaborate with you if he should be interested. If he doesn't respond or is not willing to put work into it, that's his decision. All you can do is make the offer.
    – Dirk
    Jul 14, 2017 at 8:21

2 Answers 2


This isn't a question that can be properly answered here as it may have legal implications that are local to the actual case. Don't make assumptions that your old agreement is null, just because the data became public. No harm no foul might not hold up anywhere, especially if lawyers get involved.

You indicate that the director is a different person than the one who helped you. He/she can give you advice. The legal department of the institution can give you advice that should hold up. If your new work is truly independent of the old, make sure that they understand that. The other person may have no moral hold over you for co-authorship, but only an expert can speak about a legal hold.

The question is likely too old to be of help to the OP, but future visitors may have similar questions, hence this very late answer.


First I'll say that your description of the situation is quite vague. Are there two universities and one institute involved? What were your relevant positions? Why did you need permission to get the data in the first place, if it's not private/secret and can now be downloaded freely? etc.


What should I do to get out of the original data use agreement?

It's not at all clear any agreement is still binding at this point, since it was made in a specific context and not intended to cover far-future work on other projects. Also, it's not clear what exactly your original agreement was, since it was not only verbal, but informal, and probably not much was spelled out. So it's possible the answer is "nothing". Also, you said the agreement was that:

the person extracting the data would be my collaborator and coauthor.

This time around, you are the person extracting the data, so no harm no foul. However, if you want help from that guy who helped you last time, perhaps he should be listed as a coauthor on whatever you produce now as well, or at least consulted on the issue of credit.

More generally, and regardless of your supposed contractual obligations, I would go talk to the person who helped you the first time. Start by apologizing for having acted offensively, say it wasn't your intent, and politely maneuver him into telling you what it is that he wants/expects.

PS - I just noticed this question is rather old. So this answer is intended mostly for people facing similar situations I guess.

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