IST Programme RESPECT: an IST Programme Project
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The RESPECT Code of Practice


2. Compliance with the law

In general, socio-economic researchers should comply with the laws of the countries in which they are based or in which they are carrying out research. In the case of international collaborations or online research, the laws of additional countries may also apply. Researchers have a duty to ensure that their work complies with any relevant legislation. Two areas of law (data protection law and intellectual property law) are particularly relevant for the conduct of research, especially research involving human subjects, and researchers should acquaint themselves with the relevant national and international provisions.

2.1 2.1 Data Protection

2.2 2.2 Intellectual property

2.3 2.3 Other laws

2.1 Data protection

2.1.1 Legal requirements

Socio-economic research often involves the collection and other further processing of personal data. The processing of personal data is regulated by law, and researchers have therefore to comply with the relevant national legislation of the current Member States of the European Union that implement the European Directive 95/46/CE. see data protection report1.3.1; 1.3.5

In order to comply with the terms of the data protection law, researchers should:

  1. find out whether the processing will include personal data (ie, not just confidential data but any data related to an identifiable individual) see data protection report1.3.1

  2. examine which national law applies, especially in international co-operations see data protection report2.3

  3. determine who will be the person responsible for the processing (the controller) see data protection report1.3.6; 2.2

  4. collect the data only for specified, explicit and legitimate purposes see data protection report2.10.1

  5. collect only data that are adequate, relevant and not excessive with regard to the purpose of the processing see data protection report2.10.1

  6. keep the data accurate and, where necessary, keep them up-to-date see data protection report2.10.1

  7. process the data fairly and lawfully see data protection report2.10.1

  8. in general, not keep data longer than necessary according to the purpose of the processing and when the purpose is achieved, destroy or render the data anonymous. In some countries where personal data may be kept for longer periods for historical, statistical or scientific use, researchers may keep them longer if all the conditions for this longer storage are fulfilled. see data protection report2.10.1

  9. not further process the data in a way incompatible with the initial purpose(s). If the data are further processed for scientific or statistical purposes, researchers should comply with requirements regarding the re-use of personal data see data protection report2.10.7

  10. respect the conditions regarding the legitimacy of the processing, bearing in mind that to qualify as legitimate it must meet one of the social justifications laid down by the law see data protection report2.10.2

  11. comply with the information duty towards data subjects to provide information on the identity, address of the controller, purpose of the processing, and other information stipulated by law unless an exemption is provided by the law see data protection report2.10.3

  12. comply with duties towards National Data Protection Authorities by providing the required information regarding the planned processing and, where relevant, obtaining prior consent, unless an exemption is provided by the law see data protection report2.10.4

  13. respect the rights of data subjects to access personal data, rectify incomplete or inaccurate data, and to object to the processing under the stipulated circumstances see data protection report2.10.5

  14. take technical and organisational measures to ensure the security and confidentiality of personal data (including encryption where necessary) see data protection report2.10.6

  15. comply with the conditions for communication of personal data to third parties or recipients, bearing in mind that it is only lawful to transfer data if the purpose is compatible with that for which the data were originally collected see data protection report2.10.8

  16. refrain from transferring personal data outside the European Economic Area except where an adequate level of protection has been acknowledged by the European Commission or if not, except if the legal conditions provided by the relevant law are respected. see data protection report2.10.9

2.1.2 Good practice

Good practice, as embodied in existing professional codes, lays out the following principles, which aim at ensuring the security and confidentiality of personal data.

  1. Researchers in socio-economic studies are obliged to protect personal data, ie information on identifiable individuals. In order to prevent misuse of data, data are to be stored properly and adequately (eg, by storing information through which individuals can be identified, separately from the remaining research material). Particular caution is necessary in this context with regard to the risks posed by electronic data processing and data transfer. see professional standards report1.4; Apx4

  2. Researchers should respect the anonymity, privacy and confidentiality of individuals participating in the research, and ensure that the presentation of data and findings does not allow the identity of individuals participating in a study, or informants, to be disclosed or inferred. Researchers should also ensure that this is also the case in the presentation of findings by contractors, funding agencies or colleagues. In cases where disclosure of the identity of a subject (whether an individual or an organisation) is central and relevant to the research such confidentiality cannot always be guaranteed. In such cases the problem should be addressed in open discussion with research subjects, with the aim of obtaining informed consent to any disclosure. see professional standards report1.4; Apx4; see ethics report4.4

The security and confidentiality of data is only one aspect of data protection; the other legal requirements are still compulsory. Therefore, research should be conducted in accordance with all the principles of the applicable national data protection legislation. see data protection report2.10

Before embarking on the collection of any personal data, researchers should take into account the duties and conditions of processing, make an analysis of the processing envisaged, identify the operations that will be involved and the level of sensitivity of the data, in order to assess the lawfulness of the exercise. see data protection report2.1

2.2 Intellectual property see intellectual property report

European directives on intellectual property converge with professional good practice in requiring researchers to pay attention to ensuring necessary permissions, correct attribution of authorship, acknowledgement of sources, correctness of references and the avoidance of plagiarism. see professional standards report1.3; Apx3 see ethics report

2.2.1 Legal requirements

Wherever practicable, intellectual property rights should be explicitly addressed in contracts covering the conduct of socio-economic research, whether these are funding contracts, partnership agreements or employment contracts.

In accordance with European directives and national legislation on intellectual property rights, the following questions and principles should be taken into account when conducting socio-economic research:

  1. recognising the relevance of intellectual property rights to socio-economic research see intellectual property reportB

  2. taking due account of the fact that (especially in an online environment and/or international co-operations) several national laws might be applicable that differ substantially from the regulations in the researcher’s home country see intellectual property reportC

  3. paying due respect to the fact that material used in socio-economic research is predominantly protected by intellectual property rights such as copyright, database and software protection see intellectual property reportD,I

  4. ascertaining which acts within typical research conduct are unacceptable without (statutory or contractual) permission due to rights being reserved for the author under intellectual property legislation (as named above) see intellectual property reportD,II

  5. realising how exceptions/exemptions/limitations supersede individual permission for certain acts of socio-economic research under certain conditions see intellectual property reportD,III

  6. understanding how to use licences and assignments of rights when creating or using material protected as intellectual property see intellectual property reportD,III,4

  7. taking into account how employment contracts might affect intellectual property

  8. realising the consequences of copyright infringements. see intellectual property reportD,IV

In order to comply with intellectual property law, socio-economic researchers should:

  1. find out to what extent questions of intellectual property rights (copyright, database and software protection) are concerned in the particular research activity see intellectual property reportB

  2. examine which countries’ laws apply, especially in international co-operations and when using the Internet see intellectual property reportC

  3. assume that any material created or used in socio-economic research might be intellectual property and consider protection before using it see intellectual property reportD,I

  4. realise that many ways of using protected material – such as reproduction by down-/upload or by paper/digital copies, publication, making material available on the Internet, alteration (eg, for online format etc.) – are generally reserved for a rightsholder, and find out when permission is therefore (in principle) required see intellectual property reportD,II

  5. when relying on legal permission (like the exceptions for quotation, research or ‘fair use’) for any particular conduct, consider carefully the respective extent and conditions see intellectual property reportD,III

  6. if a planned activity is not clearly covered by statutory permissions (for example quotation rights) identify the rightsholder and conclude authorising contracts (transfer/assignment of rights/license agreements). Ascertain that the permission covers explicitly all relevant aspects – among them the description of type, extent, duration, environment (such as online) of the intended use, any preparatory or subsequent acts, rights involved, responsibility for possible infringements, remuneration etc. see intellectual property reportD,III,4

  7. where several parties are involved (researchers, assistants, funding parties, employment situations in institutes, enterprises, universities) ensure explicit consensus among parties in advance, about rights matching the intended use.

2.2.2 Good practice

Good practice in relation to intellectual property goes beyond the bare legal requirements. Existing professional codes lay out the following principles:

  1. In principle, authorship is reserved for those researchers who have made a significant intellectual contribution to a research project, the writing of a research report or another scholarly piece of work. Seniority and position in a research institution’s hierarchy alone is not sufficient for authorship. Honorary authorship is unacceptable. In cases where several persons collaborate on a research project or publication, the question of authorship and intended use of the results should be discussed, and consensus achieved among participating researchers as early on in the project as possible. The order of authors listed should take account of their respective contributions to the work. All collaborating researchers, whether named as authors of a publication or not, bear responsibility for the contents of the respective publications and the presentation of data and findings in these publications. see professional standards report1.3

  2. Any third parties’ material protected by copyright must be clearly identified and clearly attributable to their original authors, regardless of the form their presentation and quotation might take (except in cases where it is necessary for the original author to remain anonymous; in such instances, however, it must be made clear that the information was provided by an anonymous person). Lack of permission for a given use is considered as theft of intellectual property. Even if material, including data, sources, information or ideas drawn from the work of others is not protected by copyright, it should be identified as third parties’ material. Failure to acknowledge the original authorship of such material, as well as knowingly presenting ideas, methodologies and research findings of others in ways that may lead observers to suppose that they are one’s own, is regarded as plagiarism and is unacceptable. see intellectual property reportD,III,4

2.3 Other laws

A wide range of other laws may also apply, varying from general health and safety, employment and anti-discrimination laws, to specific regulations governing the appointment and management of researchers, and more specific regulations that may govern the context in which particular kinds of research are carried out. see ethics report2.2; 2.3; 2.4

There may be certain circumstances that form exceptions to this rule, for instance when criminal behaviour itself forms the subject of the research undertaken. In such cases, researchers should:

  • raise the matter with research funders

  • ensure that full documentation is maintained to establish the bona fide nature of the research, and

  • where necessary, seek the advice of their relevant professional association.

In more extreme cases, research may be carried out in countries where democratic government is absent, or relatively recent, and certain laws are considered to be inherently unjust, socially harmful or detrimental to scientific integrity. In such cases too, individual researchers must take responsibility for decisions of professional judgement and their professional associations have a responsibility to support them.









cross references
to reports:

see ethics report Ethics

see intellectual property report Intellectual

see data protection report Data protection

see professional standards report Professional

nb: these links will download PDF reports