E. Böker / CC BY 4.0

Open Data, Open Access and Data Re-Use

(Open) Access to Research Data

Open Access – Online access to research results

Open Access publishing offers many advantages. In recent years, many disciplines, journals and publishers have started embracing its basic principles even though the open access movement has also been met with some skepticism.

It allows readers of scientific publications to read access, download, save, print and link a document openly and free of charge. The open access movement has also come to include open access to scientific primary and meta data, source texts and digital reproductions. With the progressing digitalisation in libraries, collections and museums as well as the growing amount of qualitative research data, open access (data) publications as well as the use of open licences have also become more and more frequent. These data can be used according to the license conditions without having to contact the author.

The research data underlying a paper or monography are still only published in rare cases. Oftentimes, these data are unsuitable for the print medium. However, even online it has not yet become a matter of course to publish processed research data. The reasons for this are varied:[1]

  • fear of loss of control over the re-use of data
  • fear of unauthorised/non-cited re-use
  • time and financial expenditure
  • lack of appreciation from the community

To prevent most of these issues from happening, it is essential that, like with a classic print publication, the terms of (re)use are precise and clearly laid out on the website/repository. It can be anticipated that there will be a change of attitude towards academic publishing including a shift towards honouring the publication of (primary) research data.[2]

Useful Open Access Services

The search engine SHERPA / JULIET hosted by the University of Nottingham provides information on  open access policies for more than 100 funding institutions.

SHERPA/RoMEO, on the other hand, allows browsing through the open access publication policies of over 3000 journals and publishers.

Academic publishing with the "right" license

The German copyright bill from 1901/07 governs the protection of intellectual property and also applies to academic publications. Its stipulations on succession can hinder the freedom of research, because they can prevent re-use of research data and other research results such as papers, editions, dictionaries e.g. even after the death of the original author.[3] 

With the advent of the internet with its new publication possibilities, new legal regulations that are more conducive to free research have emerged. Whereas it is possible to cite traditional publications by using standard citation rules,  the use of research data is much more direct and requires clearly defined rules which were not provided  in German copyright law for the longest time.[4] This has changed somewhat with the ratification of the so-called Urheberrechts-Wissenschaftsgesellsschafts-Gesetz (UhrWissG)("copyright knowledge-society law") in early 2018. It provides clear stipulations on how much of a database or other colletions of research data may be used and regulates the employment of text and data mining techniques.

Using Creative Commons licences, re-use conditions for research data and other research results can be specified. The most liberal of those licences is CC0 (Public Domain) which stipulates that the copyright holder releases the work into the public domain and therefore forfeits any rights to the work. Besides CC0 a CC-BY 4.0 license (i.e. attribution to the author of the data) is most commonly suitable for research data and meets most researchers' requirements. Similar licenses can be found at opendefinition.org.

However, it has to be noted, that the majority of research data do not fall under any copyright law at all. It has emerged as a best practice to mark these kinds of data with a non-copyrighted symbol or the phrase "non-copyrighted" upon publication. More information on this can be found in the article "Legal issues".

Open primary research data

When research data are freely accessible and reusable online, they are often called "open data". This is a relatively general term which can be specified as needed. The "open" movement also  comprises open source, open government, open educational resources and, as already mentioned, open access.

Open data are data that have been made available for free use, re-use and dissemination. They can comprise any kind of data from learning materials to geographical data, statistics, traffic data, academic publications, medical data, radio and tv broadcasts.

In oder to mark data as "open", different choices of license are available. Data with restrictive licences, which limit use by prohibiting derivatives or commercial use, do not strictly count as "open data" even though they can certainly improve the academic exchange of ideas.

Other than with open access, the focus with open data is not the medium but the information itself. In all other respects, both open access and open data are movements which emphasize and foster free availability and use of information. Movements like open education and open government are not as clearly defined. Both data and other information can fall into these categories.

Open Government Data exclsuively deals with freely accessible public administration data. The  open government movement promotes transparency of goverments and administrations towards their citizens. The goal is to make their work transparent which will lead to better participation of individual citizens and, in turn, to an increase in community-mindedness. Additionally, it is the hope that it will lead to more cooperation and innovation. Such transparency could also benefit researchers, if it leads to easy and free access to relevant data and documents (download in commonly used data formats and with open licenses).

In Germany,  GovData, the data portal of the Federal Ministery of the Interior, Building and Community, went online in 2013. It provides a number of datasets and documents related to government and administration that have been released for public use.


  1.   Benedikt Fecher (2014), Ein Einblick in ein laufendes Forschungsprojekt: Die Systematic Review und das Teilen von Daten, Alexander von Humboldt Institut für Internet und Gesellschaft/HIGG Blog, 07.01.2014.
  2.  Falk Reckling (2013), Open Access - Aktuelle internationale und nationale Entwicklungen, FWF, 20.03. 2013.
  3.  Till Kreutzer (2013), Open Educational Resources (OER), Open-Content und Urheberrecht (Frankfurt/Main 2013).
  4. Materialsammlung zum DFG-Projekt: Future Publications in den Humanities. Fu-PusH-Dossier: Rechtsgrundlage, 18.02.2016.