Delaying access to data

While the University and many funding bodies require research data to be shared as openly as possible, there is no expectation that this sharing should start immediately. It would be unusual to share any data during the active phase of a project, before findings have been published.

In practice, you are permitted a privileged period of exclusive access, allowing you time to analyse and publish the results of the data you have created or collected. During a project, and assuming no other constraints apply, you would only need to provide access to the subset of data supporting the findings you have published so far. This would allow you time to continue to analyse and publish from your wider dataset. However, funder data policies differ on how long this period of exclusive use should last – you may be required to publish all final datasets within a defined period from either the end of project funding or the date of data collection.

You may be able to delay sharing your data beyond the privileged period, or beyond the publication date of your findings, by means of an embargo. All embargoes must be justified. The most usual reasons given are as follows:

  • to allow time for further papers based on the same data to complete the publication process;
  • to allow time for patent applications to be filed;
  • to allow time for the commercial potential of the research to be explored and exploited. If you think your research might have commercial value, contact Research and Innovation Services for advice on commercialisation before you publish the data.

Whether these justifications are acceptable depends on your funder and your publisher. Many project funders encourage the protection of intellectual property rights arising from the research they are funding, but you should check your funder's policy to see whether these are acceptable grounds for an embargo. Not all publishers will allow data to be embargoed beyond the date of publication – PLOS's data policy is one example – so you should check your journal's requirements to avoid manuscript rejections.

Even where embargoes are permitted, there is a limit to how long they can last. Again, this is a matter where funder data policies differ, but in the absence of other stipulations, you should avoid applying embargo periods that last longer than 24 months. If you need a longer embargo than this, contact the Library's Research Data Service for advice.