Copyright and Agreements

Copyright is regulated in Finland by the Copyright Act (404/1961). The law safeguards an author's economic and moral rights to his or her work. Types of work protected include fictional or descriptive representations in writing and speech, musical and dramatic works, cinematographic works, photographs and other works of fine art, products of architecture, artistic handicraft, and industrial art. The copyright is valid for 70 years after the death of the author. In addition, the law also sets out related rights. These provide protection for photographers and creators of visual recordings, catalogues and certain databases. The purpose of related rights is to safeguard works whose design, collection and handling have required significant work. This term of protection is generally less than the usual 70 years of protection time.

Copyright Act 404/1961, section 3 (Opens in a new tab)

Ultimately the level of copyright protection for material is determined by the court on a case-specific basis. The usual assessment criterion is often held to be whether or not another person could achieve the same result through the same work. The work must be sufficiently independent and original in order to be deemed a work. Research data may contain poems, photographs, drawings, computer programs, audio-visual works or catalogues protected by related rights, all of which may be deemed a work.

A research publication is always a work, but research data are not always protected by copyright. The Copyright Council (Tekijänoikeusneuvosto) gives statements on the interpretation of Finnish copyright law, and has dealt with research data in at least three of its statements. In two statements it separately states that a survey questionnaire does not exceed the threshold to be determined as a work ( Copyright Council statement 1999:15 (Opens in a new tab) PDF and statement 1999: 17 (Opens in a new tab) PDF ). One statement from the Copyright Council deals with qualitative research data. The qualitative interviews and related transcripts which were the focus of the Council's assessment were not sufficiently independent and original for them to be considered works as set out in section 1 of the Copyright Act ( statement 2008:14 (Opens in a new tab) PDF ).

A research data entity may contain both sections which are protected by copyright and sections which are unprotected. Regardless of whether the data are protected by copyright, researchers should at the start of the research come to an agreement amongst themselves on the use and archiving of the data. If the data to be used in research include data produced by others than the researchers themselves (such as photographs or poems), the rights of use of these data should be agreed on with original data creators.

Copyright includes both economic and moral rights. Economic rights entail rights to produce copies of the work and to make the work available to the public. Key moral rights are respect rights and the right to be acknowledged as an author. Respect rights entitle the author of the work to oppose alterations to the work that would violate its literary and artistic value. The right to be acknowledged as an author on the other hand, is defined as follows: "When copies of a work are made or when the work is made available to the public in whole or in part, the name of the author shall be stated in a manner required by proper usage." (Copyright Act 404/1961, section 3)

Of the moral rights relating to copyright, the right to be acknowledged as an author is of great significance in research. Reference to sources used in research is a show of respect to researchers who have dealt with the topic previously and a demonstration of the author's familiarity and level of reading on the topic. You should always refer to archived research data and the original researcher or researchers using the same principle as when referring to written sources. As a key ethical principle, the requirement for referring to sources used must always be fulfilled regardless of whether the research data are protected by copyright in legislation. For that reason, in addition to publication authorship, the authorship of research data should also be agreed on.

When research data are archived in the Finnish Social Science Data Archive (FSD), the copyright and ownership rights to the data are not transferred to the data archive. The data archive archives an electronic copy of the original data suitable for reuse, takes care of the usability and long-term preservation of the archived dataset, and manages its reuse. The data archive is given distribution rights and tasked with the obligation to store and distribute the archived data in accordance with terms set out in an archiving contract.

Agreements between researchers Anchor link icon

When several researchers participate in a research project, the responsibilities and rights of the researchers should be agreed on. Clarification of roles and clear rules set out in advance create an operating environment based on mutual understanding. Agreement on matters relating to the research project also demonstrates responsibility and respect for research subjects. Clear administrative roles concerning research data also allow for the efficient reuse of the data.

In a research project, it is essential to clearly determine the tasks, responsibilities and rights of all project participants. Ambiguity can occur regarding, for example, the rights to use research data collected for the project or how to use data obtained from outside of the project. Ambiguity can also arise concerning the authorship of research results. From an archiving point of view, when it comes to research material, it is extremely significant as to who has the right to decide on the handover of research data for reuse and to decide the terms which apply to such reuse.

The following guidelines explain how to draw up agreements between researchers, especially from an archiving and reuse perspective.

When is it a good idea to draw up a separate agreement?

Often the need for a separate agreement is greater the more extensive the research project is. In these cases there may be more conflicting opinions, rights and interests concerning the research project, and it is easiest to coordinate these at the start of the project. Even in smaller projects it can be well worth agreeing on relationships between researchers to avoid disputes.

There are at least three perspectives which have an influence on the need for a separate agreement. Firstly, some of the most significant aspects of the research project may have been agreed on as part of the research plan and data management plan. These can be considered as binding agreements between at least those researchers who participated in drawing up those plans. A separate agreement is needed if the research or data management plan is not sufficiently comprehensive. Even if archiving and reuse have been agreed on in the data management plan, it could still be unclear as to e.g. when the research data (or parts thereof) can be handed over for archiving. Changes in circumstances may also require a separate agreement to be drawn up, for example if new researchers or cooperation partners become involved in the research later on.

Secondly, the need for agreement is greater when there is more room for interpretation (or several alternatives are possible) in the applicable ethical and legislative norms. Thirdly, it could be that an agreement concerning the project's organisation or a research cooperation agreement has already been drawn up. In such cases, a supplementary agreement can be drawn up if previous agreements or plans are insufficient.

With regard to archiving, the following list can be used as a checklist. A separate agreement may be necessary if the following matters have not been unambiguously agreed upon in advance with all researchers:

  • What data will be handed over for reuse?
  • If one or more researchers have brought earlier research material to the research project, will this be included in the data that are handed over for reuse?
  • When can the data (or parts thereof) be handed over for reuse? (E.g. a pre-determined schedule, or upon publication)
  • For which purposes is the data going to be handed over (solely for research, or also for educational purposes or studying)?
  • Who has the right to make an archiving agreement concerning the research data?
  • Will any terms and conditions be set for data reuse?
  • If permission is required to use the data, who will decide on granting the permission?

How should the agreement be drawn up?

The agreement can be drawn up in a free format, such as verbally. An e-mail is also sufficient if all parties of the research group have responded to it affirmatively. In some cases, discussion on the matter may continue and the final content of the agreement remain unclear. For this reason, a written agreement signed by all contractual parties is the only way to see which details have been agreed and which have not.

When drawing up an agreement, it is essential that all parties commit to the agreement voluntarily and are in unanimous agreement as to its content.

What should the agreement contain?

The content of the agreement depends on the special features of the research project. Nevertheless, the agreement should clearly set out:

  • The contractual parties and the validity period of the agreement
  • The tasks and responsibilities of parties concerning the project
  • Rights of use to data in the original research:
    • Researchers' rights of use to data in accordance with the original plan
    • Rights of use to data in situations wherein funding cannot be secured for all researchers for the entire duration of the project and/or a researcher moves to another project
    • Validity period of the right of use (especially thesis completion)
  • Itemisation of data to be handed over for reuse
  • Naming of authors of the data/material (reference information)
  • The time period for handover for reuse
  • Restrictions set on reuse and their validity
  • Can the right to reuse data be transferred onwards to third parties before data are archived?
  • Who can make an agreement on behalf of the other researchers concerning the archiving of research data?
  • Who will grant permission to use the data if necessary?

The research group can authorise one researcher to decide on permission to use data. With an agreement, however, it is possible to establish a separate group to decide on granting such permission. Such an arrangement is primarily a body based on freedom of contract and is separate from the research institute's administration. When undertaking such an arrangement, group members' opportunities to have an influence on matters must be agreed upon. This may take the form of a majority vote, or decision-making based on unanimous agreement. It is often most flexible to place decision-making authority concerning reuse of research data with one person, with boundary terms agreed on jointly and in advance.

When drawing up a separate agreement, care must be taken to ensure that the agreement is not in breach of third party agreements, such as contracts with a funder or previous agreements or commitments. In addition, the agreement to be drawn up may not violate the legally or ethically protected rights of researchers or third parties.

To avoid ambiguity, it is worth including a clause in the agreement stating that the written agreement replaces any previous verbal or written agreements between researchers. It is also often worthwhile to agree that any later changes to the agreement must be made in writing.

Agreement with external parties concerning the transfer of copyright and ownership rights Anchor link icon

Material which is protected by copyright can in some circumstances be collected from research subjects as part of research data acquisition. For example, there could be a research set-up wherein the research subjects are given video cameras with which to record their day-to-day life. In these situations the research subjects have copyright over the video they record. If subjects are requested to write, written work such as a poem may be created and protected as a work.

Attention should be paid when necessary to the ownership right to the data sent by the research subject. The right may require researchers to e.g. send individual photographs back to the research subject.

On the other hand, researchers may also collect data protected by copyright belonging to parties who are not research subjects. It is best to obtain written permission from the holders of rights to use the data in the desired way.

When should agreement take place on the transfer of copyright?

Copyright gives the author exclusive rights over his or her work. This includes the right to reproduce new copies of the work and to make the work publicly available. Copyright, or in some cases, related rights, may limit the ways in which researchers may use the material created by research subjects.

The need for agreement on the transfer of copyrights depends on two things. Firstly, the research subject's creation must be protected by the Copyright Act (Opens in a new tab) . Secondly, the need depends on the method in which you later wish to use the work created by research subjects. There are, however, a few significant exceptions regarding the protection provided by copyright.


Despite copyright, the researcher can make his or her own visual or audial observations and conclusions on the material created and sent to the researcher by the research subject. For example, a researcher is free to examine a submitted photograph and to make written notes on it. Making notes nevertheless requires that no new copies are simultaneously produced of the work, unless separately agreed on with the author that the work can be reproduced for research purposes.

The right to quote in publications

A work made public may be quoted, in accordance with proper usage to the extent necessary for the purpose. As such, it is possible for researchers to quote from a work created by a research subject ("the right to quote"). A work created by a research subject can be deemed public once the subject has voluntarily handed it over to the researcher. In addition to written works, the right to quote also applies to musical works and photographs. This copyright limitation is very significant with regard to scientific publications.

Relevance is often an important factor related to quotation. A quote must have a sufficient connection to the researcher's publication. This can involve, for instance, the justification of one's own perspective or illustration of presented conclusions. There is no set maximum length for quotations, and an assessment of necessity must always be carried out on a case-by-case basis.

The right to quote allows for the researcher to quote from a work created and sent to the researcher by the research subject, or from any other published work. In addition to written works, the right to quote also applies to musical works and photographs. The right to quote is extremely important in research and scientific publications.

Presentation in seminars and workshops

The public presentation of a work is the exclusive right of the copyright holder. For scientific purposes in some situations it may be necessary to present research subjects' works at seminars and workshops, for example. As a rule of thumb, only public presentation is prohibited. This can lead to problems with interpretation as to when a presentation is public and when it is deemed to be private. If presentation is private, there is no need to obtain permission from the copyright holder.

One good guideline for assessment is to establish whether the number of participants is restricted in advance. A presentation aimed at a limited number of participants is not deemed to be a public presentation. If the event's participants are specified in such a way that it could attract a wide audience, the presentation is public. A clear example of private presentation is a situation in which two research groups discuss their research in a conference room. On the other hand, it is clear that a presentation is public if a university calendar announces free admission to the event on its events calendar.

Prohibition of alteration and anonymisation

It is prohibited to alter a work protected by copyright unless otherwise explicitly agreed. Due to legislation concerning personal data security, it is often necessary to make changes to the work in order to fulfil e.g. the Personal Data Act's necessity requirement. If the level of anonymisation is explained to research subjects along with other information, this allows for the work to be altered as applicable. More extensive alterations to works will, however, require a separate agreement.

Ownership right to a work

It is fundamental to distinguish between copyright and the ownership right to an original copy of a work. For example, a physical paper copy of a piece of artwork drawn by a research subject is subject to ownership right. Copyright on the other hand deals with an immaterial right which is not bound to a physical object. Ownership right and copyright may also lie with different parties. If, for example, a researcher provides a research subject with a video reel with which to record requested video, the ownership right to the video reel remains with the researcher even though the copyright to the recorded video itself is held by the research subject.

Temporary transfer of holdership

A change in holdership does not necessarily mean the transfer of ownership rights. As such, the original copy of a work may temporarily – for example, during research – be in the possession of the research group, but its ownership right remains with the research subject. Researchers can for example request research subjects to send photographs or hand-written diaries through the postal system to be converted into digital format by the researchers. In such cases, the photographs and diaries are only on loan to the researchers, unless otherwise agreed.

As unique copies of work, photographs and diaries may hold significant sentimental value to the research subject, and the transfer of their ownership rights should be agreed on separately. Situations wherein the research subject is asked separately to keep a diary for the research can be evaluated in a different way. Nevertheless, even in these cases, the research subject should be informed as to whether the diary will be returned or if the subject will receive a copy of the diary.

For clarity over the rights to the research data, it is also worth agreeing on what to do with the physical copy once the research is over. It is often unnecessary to store a physical copy for reuse if a digital copy of the original is made. In this case, the physical copy is either destroyed or returned to its original owner. If the work is of significant value to the research subject, it is considered good practice to provide information concerning the timescale in which the material will be returned.

Transfer costs

It does not usually cost anything to transfer works sent in digital format. The transfer of concrete objects may result in postal costs. Unless otherwise agreed, the research subject usually sends the original copy of the work at his or her own cost. Correspondingly, it is good practice for researchers to pay for the possible return of material or for its disposal.

Agreeing on the transfer of copyright

The use of copyright can be agreed in a free format. Such an agreement can be made verbally, in writing, or can be inferred from the circumstances. With regard to copyright it is important to take into account that sending an original copy of a work, such as a text or photograph, to researchers does not alone determine how the related copyrights can be used. An agreement may however be formed by including information on how copyright is transferred with the information about the research given to subjects. In this case when a research subject sends a copy protected by copyright, the copyrights can be deemed to transfer as set out in the information provided.

The transfer of right of use based on inference from circumstances or through silent agreement can be relatively clear in situations wherein e.g. the research subjects participate in the research by taking photographs as requested using a camera and its memory card, both provided by the researchers. In these situations also, it is clearest if the information provided to research subjects or the agreement made with them determines the rights to the use of the images in research and to their archiving for reuse.

Even if the research subject's creation is not protected by the Copyright Act, it is good ethical practice to explain to the research subjects how their works will be handled and used. One guideline is that the more sensitive the nature of the work is to the research subject, the more detailed the information should be. A work may also contain personal data, for which reason the wider guidelines on informing participants (research subjects) are also often applicable.

See Informing Research Participants.

Who can agree on the transfer of copyright?

The right to transfer copyright lies primarily with the author. For example, no-one can provide a researcher with rights of use to photographs taken by another person. In some cases, an author may have already transferred his or her rights to a work so that she or he no longer holds the economic rights to it. An example of this would be a photograph whose author has waived his or her economic rights to the photograph entirely by entering it into a photography competition. But if the original author has not transferred exclusive rights, she or he still holds copyright.

A special case regarding copyright-protected works occurs if a work is created by several individuals. All authors have copyright to such jointly created works wherein the authors' contributions cannot be distinguished from one another. In such cases, the transfer of copyright requires that each author provide permission for such transfer. An example could be a literary work with two authors having participated in the writing.

If a work has several authors and the authors' contributions can be distinguished from one another, this is known as a joint work. In such cases each author has control over his or her own contribution independently. The authors together dictate what happens to the overall work in its entirety.

If a copyright holder dies before an agreement is reached concerning the transfer of copyright, Finnish judicial regulations concerning matrimonial rights to property, inheritance and wills will be followed.

What is worth agreeing on?

The following list can be used as an aid when planning what to agree on.

  • Any possible reimbursement to the author, or information that no such reimbursement will be paid
  • Possible public presentation of the work
  • The inclusion of the work as part of scientific publications (situations wherein the right to quote is insufficient)
  • How to mention the author's name as part of publications and quotations (own name, pen name, initials, anonymous)
  • Possible further handover of copyright
  • Validity period of rights of use, if the work or its digital copy is not archived
  • Archiving copies of the work and specification of rights of use to the copies for the archive (research or also teaching and study)
  • Whether the work can be altered or adapted

Rights can be transferred entirely or only in part. This includes the transfer of either exclusive or parallel rights to a work to researchers. It is deemed good ethical practice if no copyrights are transferred to the researchers besides those which are absolutely necessary for the appropriate fulfilment of freedom of science. The transfer of exclusive rights can be deemed exceptional.


Please familiarise yourself not only with the examples below, but also with the general guidelines on informing research participants.


In this example, research subjects send old photographs to researchers by post and are offered the opportunity to have the photos returned to them. The information provided to subjects includes mention of the use of the photos in publications and a request to provide instructions on how to refer to the author of the photograph and any other people who may appear in the images. In addition, it includes information on reimbursement for the use of the work and on archiving:

The photographs you have sent in an envelope through the post will be digitised. If you wish for the photographs to be returned to you, please attach your contact details and an explicit request to have the photos returned.

The photographs you send may be published as part of scientific research publications. Along with the cover letter, please provide information on how you wish for the photographer to be referred to in possible publications (name, other information, initials or anonymous). If the photograph was taken by someone else, please obtain his or her permission to send the photograph.

Remember that you also need the permission of any living people who appear recognisably in the photograph in order for the photographs to be made public. Along with the cover letter, please provide information concerning requests for permission from the people in the photographs to make the photos public. Explain how to refer to people appearing in the photographs in publications (name, other information, initials, or anonymous).

No reimbursement will be paid for the use and/or publication of the photographs.

After the research is over, digital copies of the photographs you send will be archived at the Finnish Social Science Data Archive for later reuse in research. Researchers using the archived data will be provided with your instructions concerning references to the author and individuals appearing in the photographs in publications.


In this example, research subjects send poems which they wrote in their youth to researchers via post for research purposes and the subjects are given the opportunity to have the original texts returned to them. The information provided to research subjects explains the use of the poem in publications, reimbursement for the use of the work and archiving.

The poems you send in an envelope via post will be digitised. If you wish for the poems to be returned to you, please attach your contact details and your explicit request to have the poems returned.

The poem you send may be published in its entirety or in part in scientific research publications. Along with the cover letter, please provide information on how you wish for the author of the poem to be referred to in possible publications (name, other information, initials or anonymous).

No reimbursement will be paid for the use and/or publication of the poems.

After the research is over, digital copies of the poems you send will be archived at the Finnish Social Science Data Archive for later reuse in research. Researchers using the archived data will be provided with your instructions concerning references to the author in publications.

Authorship in scientific publications and research data Anchor link icon

Determining authorship appropriately serves two purposes. Firstly, authorship provides the researcher with recognition for participation in a creative, scientific process. Secondly, authorship demonstrates responsibility for the content and results of research.

In cases wherein the acquisition, analysis and reporting of research data is carried out by a single researcher authorship is easy to determine. For example, in legal science, research is primarily completed and the resulting publication written by a single person. In many scientific fields, such as medicine, there are often several participants in research and ambiguity can occur when determining authorship concerning research data and subsequent research publications. Interdisciplinary and collective research work can also pose challenges when determining authorship due to varying practices in different fields.

The Copyright Act (404/1961) requires reference to the author of a work protected by law according to good practice whenever a copy of a work is produced or if the work is made publicly available either in whole or in part. The definition in the Copyright Act is nevertheless remarkably open, and good scientific practice can be considered to concretise the good practice referred to in the act. On the other hand, the question of authorship is not limited to copyright law alone, since copyright primarily only protects the form of a work. As a result of this emphasis, significant participation in, for example, research planning or data analysis does not from a legislative perspective necessarily require reference to the researcher as an author unless he or she has participated to a sufficient extent in the actual writing of the article. In practice, it is necessary to supplement the legislative perspective with criteria for good scientific practice which supports wider transparency.

The question of determining authorship will be dealt with below in two sections. The first will examine the right (and obligation) to be acknowledged as an author of research data or a publication. The second part will examine various methods of determining the order of authors.

The right to be acknowledged as an author

Researchers can agree on their roles and rights between themselves . As part of this allocation of tasks and responsibilities, they can also agree on authorship concerning research data and publications made based on the data. The Finnish Advisory Board on Research Integrity's (TENK) guidelines for the responsible conduct of research and procedures for handling allegations of misconduct in Finland hold it to be responsible conduct of research to agree on principles relating to authorship before starting on research or recruiting researchers.

The Vancouver guidelines (International Committee of Medical Journals Editors: Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals 2013) recommend the fulfilment of four criteria in order for a person to be acknowledged as an author:

  • substantial contributions to the conception or design of the work; or the acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data for the work
  • drafting the work or revising it critically for important intellectual content
  • final approval of the version to be published
  • commitment to be accountable for the final result of the work

There is no obstacle to a legal person (such as a research institution) being acknowledged as author, or to general reference information being used rather than reference to individual researchers from a research project. This can also be practical if a significant number of people participated in the planning and acquisition of data or writing the research report. In such cases, the individual authors and their roles can, if necessary, be described in a separate section as part of the data or report.

Assistants and other parties

The Vancouver guidelines also recommend acknowledgement of the contribution of individuals who do not meet all the criteria for authorship. These include individuals who have assisted scientific research by e.g. providing feedback, helping with translation, participating in transliteration or have otherwise somehow assisted in the completion of the research. It is also worth noting that the procurement of financing alone, or for example, project management without the fulfilment of any other criteria, does not entitle the person in question to acknowledgement as an author, but rather as an assistant. Assistants may be acknowledged by thanking them in endnotes or footnotes and by describing their contribution in the acknowledgements section.

When research data are collected with intention to archive the data, it is good to note that mere participation in the collection process with no other significant contribution to the research does not entitle the person in question to authorship. This is also significant in cases where data collection is contracted out. When data are archived in the Finnish Social Science Data Archive, only individuals who have participated in the conception of the intellectual content of the data are included in the reference information.

Manipulation of authorship as a violation of good scientific practice

The dishonest acknowledgement of authorship can be deemed a violation of responsible conduct of research. This can be deliberate or caused by negligence. TENK's guidelines for the responsible conduct of research and procedures for handling allegations of misconduct in Finland classifies violations of the responsible conduct of research into two groups: research misconduct and disregard for the responsible conduct of research.

Deliberate, insufficient acknowledgement of authorship can be deemed plagiarism or misappropriation. According to the guidelines, disregard for the responsible conduct of research manifests itself as gross negligence and carelessness during the research process. The following behaviours are significant with regard to authorship:

  • denigration of the role of other researchers in publications, such as neglecting to mention them
  • misleading the scientific community with regard to one's own research work in some other manner

In addition to these, the guidelines also set out other irresponsible practices which can, on a case-specific basis, meet the criteria for a violation of the responsible conduct of research. One of these specifically mentions the manipulation of authorship. The manipulation of authorship can occur either by including in the list of authors persons who have not participated in the research, or by taking credit for work produced by someone else.

Since the production and distribution of research and scientific data are deemed as measures of scientific merit on a typical researcher's CV, it is important for research data authors to be named correctly.

Order of authorship

There are some differences concerning the order of authorship in various fields. A common solution, especially in the humanities, is to use alphabetical ordering, unless there is some pressing reason to refrain from doing so. For example, alphabetical ordering might not be used if the contributions entitling researchers to authorship are different from one another. In broader projects, authors can also be classified by contribution into groups of authors, within which the authors are listed in alphabetical order. Another reason for choosing not to use alphabetical order could be that a field uses an established practice which also follows the responsible conduct of research. In some fields for example, it is common for the director of the research to be mentioned last. Practices relating to a single field of research however do not provide an unambiguous solution if the research is multidisciplinary by nature. In these cases, it is worth agreeing in advance as to how authors will be acknowledged.

If it is not possible to agree on the authors of publications at the start of research, at least the principles of authorship should be agreed. It may also be worthwhile to prepare for a situation wherein the original research plan changes in a way that affects how authorship is defined. In practice, it is also possible for researchers to agree on flexible arrangements. If two researchers regularly work together, there is no obstacle to them coming to a mutual agreement on an alternating order of authorship. This requires, however, that they are both entitled to the same level of authorship in each publication or research data.