Rights and copyright

In the data management plan, you describe at this point

1) What should be agreed on the use of the data if you were writing your thesis as part of a research group or in collaboration with a company, or if you were granted access to previously collected data?

2) Does the data contain copyrighted material? What should be taken into account in this case?

The section is related to the FAIR principles of Accessible and Re-usable.

Rights related to data

The rights related to the data are one part of data management. Rights include, for example:

  • Who can use the data and how.
  • Who has the right to decide on the use of the data.
  • Who decides what to do with the data after the study.

Do you collect or process data with a research group or master's thesis partner? Will you have access to the finished data? How and what is agreed:

  • When more than one researcher is involved in the data, it is always a good idea to agree on the rights related to the data and the objectives of your work in writing.
    • The agreement can be free-form, but it should be in text form.
  • Agree on your access rights and goals, and possibly on handing over the data to the project.
  • If you have access to previously collected data, you will usually be told how the data can be used and what you should take into account.
  • If you hand over the data to a project or research group after your work has ended, it is usually also agreed that the rights to the data will be transferred to the project.
  • In addition, a commitment is made with the research project on the processing of personal data if the data contains personal data.

When are rights agreed?

  • If you are a student collecting research data for a research group or project.
  • If you have access to all or part of previously collected data.
  • If you collect research data in a thesis that you are doing in collaboration with a company or, for example, as an assignment from an organisation.

Agreeing is important to reduce the risk of problem situations. For example, it is agreed in advance what kind of rights the members of the research group have and who is responsible for the data. It is also important to decide who decides what happens to the data after the completion of your thesis. This is especially important if you are planning to pursue further studies and are thinking of continuing with the same data after your master's thesis. If, on the other hand, the collection of data is based on an organisation's mandate, it is necessary to consider what is expected of the data and what the objectives of data collection are. Master's thesis pairs should also agree in some way, for example, on the goals of the work and common responsibilities.

Sometimes a permit is required for research, for example if the object of the research is an educational institution or organization. Permit practices vary by discipline and should be discussed with your supervisor. For example, if you are recruiting research subjects from a certain school, you must first ask permission from the education department of the city or municipality. Once you have received the permit, you still need to obtain permission from the school.


The data may be subject to copyright issues

  • If you research published works or otherwise copyrighted data, such as images, videos, games, artwork, magazine articles, photographs, poems, choreographies or songs.
  • If you collect their outputs from research participants, such as stories, drawings, or journal entries.

Copyright means that the author has the right to determine the use of the work. For example, public copies of copyrighted works may not be made without permission. However, there are exceptions, such as quotation, which are described below.

Copyright does not mean that a work cannot be analysed, commented on or observed. Even if the material in question is protected by copyright, the researcher has the freedom to observe the content of the material and tell about it in their own words. If the material is a published work, such as a film, the work is then used as a source and cited. Copyright only protects the expression of the work, i.e. making a copy, for example, is prohibited in principle. However, copyright does not protect the information or ideas contained in the work.

Do you research copyrighted data?

The thesis is a public document, and copyrighted data can be included only when it's used correctly. If you were to use a screenshot of a Youtube video in your master's thesis, it would be a public copy. However, quotations, or direct quotations such as a screenshot, can be taken from a published work if the use of the quotation is justified:

  • The quote must have a factual connection to the text and it must not, for example, be too narrow or broad in such a way as to distort the original content.
  • For example, an image that has been published and crosses the threshold of a work can be published as an image quote in a thesis if the image has a connection to the text and the publication of the image is justified, for example, to support the conclusions presented in the text. More on crossing the threshold below.

Citation is one possibility to publish copyrighted data collected from research subjects. It is agreed with the research participant whether direct quotes or image quotes may be published. Please also note the protection of personal data (more on this in the next section).

If you collect copyrighted data directly from research subjects (e.g. diary entries, photographs), make a separate copyright agreement. The agreement on copyright may be short. The agreement defines, for example:

  • ownership
  • how the data will be used in research,
  • the return of works to subjects (if necessary),
  • direct quotations or other distribution of the work,
  • whether the name of the author is mentioned or not (take into account the protection of personal data),
  • how long the researcher is allowed to store the data, and
  • whether the work can be modified.

It is not necessary to agree on everything for all research data, but on a case-by-case basis. (Source: DMP Tuuli, FSD guidelines; Data Management Handbook).

For example, if you collect newspaper articles or published photographs, make a separate document in which you list the references of the collected items, i.e. bibliographic information (author, publication date, etc.) (Source: DMP Tuuli, FSD guidelines)

How does copyright work?

More information about copyright:

Copyright is created when the output exceeds the threshold of a work. In practice, the threshold is easily exceeded: as long as the work is independent (i.e. not a copy of an existing work) and original enough that another person would probably not make exactly the same work.

Copyright protection does not require registration or publication, and the quality of the work and the amount of work used are irrelevant. In other words, for example, a personal journal entry, a child's drawing, choreography, a computer game or a film can be protected by copyright. Copyright is valid for a certain period of time, most commonly while the author is alive and for 70 years after the author's death. In addition to copyright, there are related rights that are similar to copyright, but to a lesser extent. These may concern, for example, ordinary photographs that are not so-called art photographs.

No copyright is created to the research data, i.e. you do not own the copyright to the raw data you have collected (e.g. interview data). If, on the other hand, you produce a database based on the data, for example, the database may enjoy legal protection similar to copyright.

Copyright sites used as sources where you can find more information about copyright and related rights:

  • Tekijänoikeus.fi
  • Kopiosto, Sanasto, Kuvasto and Teosto
  • FSD's Data Management Handbook