Ethical and legal issues

Not all data can be open to all. Various data have different degrees of publicity, ranging from completely open to highly confidential.  The publisher of the data must ensure that data  publication does not violate the Act on the Openness of Government Activities (621/1999), Personal Data Act (523/1999) or Copyright Act (404/1961). Also Good scientific practices have to be taken into account.

According to the Act on the Openness of Government Activities, official documents are considered public, unless otherwise specified by law. The following are deemed not to be official documents and so are not by default public (Act on the Openness of Government Activities, section 5):

(1) a letter or other document sent to a person in the service of an authority or to an elected official because of another task performed or position held by the recipient;
(2) notes kept by a person in the service of an authority or a person commissioned by an authority and such drafts which have not yet been released for presentation or other consideration;
(3) documents procured for in-service training, information retrieval or any other comparable internal activity of an authority;
(4) a document given to an authority for the performance of a task on  behalf of a private party, or prepared for this purpose;
(5) a document left with or handed in to an authority as lost property.

According to the Act on the Openness of Government Activities section 24(1): "Unless specifically otherwise provided, the following official documents shall be secret:

"(16) the basic data for research and statistics, where these have been voluntarily handed over to the authority for the express purpose of research or statistical operations;

" (21) documents concerning the basic materials for a dissertation or other scientific study, technological or other development project, or the assessment of the same, unless it is obvious that access will not cause inconvenience to the completion of the dissertation, study or development project or their exploitation, its appropriate assessment or the person carrying out the research, nor to the person commissioning the study or development project;".

As stated in the Personal Data Act: "The objectives of this Act are to implement, in the processing of personal data, the protection of private life and the other basic rights which safeguard the right to privacy, as well as to promote the development of and compliance with good processing practice." (Personal Data Act, section 1).

Read more on the significance of the Personal Data Act in processing data on the Office of the Data Protection Ombudsman website. You are considered a register holder if you collect personal data for a specific purpose. In this case, you are also held responsible for the processing of personal data. The Office of the Data Protection Ombudsman has updated its brochure "Tietosuoja ja tieteellinen tutkimus henkil├Âtietolain kannalta" (Finnish only).

Under section 1 of the Copyright Act, scientific work is afforded protection in the same manner as  literary or artistic work. No requirements have been set regarding the intended purpose of the work produced. A work may serve purely practical needs. In several of its statements, the Copyright Council has specified that the data serving as the basis of scientific work is subject to copyright protection and should be assessed in the same manner as other works subject to the Copyright Act. Where research data is concerned, meeting the protection threshold for a work is assessed in the same way as for other works: on a case-specific basis, according to whether it is original and independent.

Research data can also be granted rights related to copyright. Potential works eligible for related rights include photographs, catalogues and databases (Copyright Act, Chapter 5).

Research data is not a concept covered by copyright law - it must be divided into its constituent parts, with the copyright protection for each work candidate or recipient of related rights being assessed separately.  Research data may consist of both parts (e.g., photographs, maps, descriptive drawings, letters, interviews) covered by copyright protection (Copyright Act, section 1) and parts that do not meet the protection threshold for works, which are "free works" (Copyright Act, section 9) or whose term of copyright has expired (Copyright Act, section 43).

Both databases and photographs may be covered by copyright protection or related rights. If a database is given copyright protection as a literary work, it is sufficient that its structure expresses the original selection and organisation of content. No other criteria may be used in assessing whether a database is a protected work under copyright law.  If a database is comprised of works, each of them is protected under its own copyright. This might be, for example, an image database.

Responsible conduct of research

The Finnish Advisory Board on Research Ethics (TENK), which is formed by the Ministry of Education and Culture,  has collaborated with the Finnish science community  to reform the ethical guidelines for the responsible conduct of research (RCR Guidelines) and procedures for handling allegations of misconduct. The guidelines are self-regulation by the research community and part of the quality assurance of research organisations. (www.tenk.fi)

The Academy of Finland is committed to abiding by these guidelines. All 15 Finnish universities, 24 out of the 27 Finnish universities of applied sciences, 25 research institutes and seven  other institutions (e.g., Emergency Services College and Foundation of the Finnish Institute in the Middle East ) have all committed to the Responsible Conduct of Research  Guidelines. (The committed organizations are listed on TENK pages www.tenk.fi)

Each researcher and research group is, first and foremost, responsible for complying with the proper conduct of research and valid legislation. If there is any allegation of misconduct, the university is obligated to investigate the matter. In conducting an investigation, the university must comply with TENK's procedural guidelines and the Administrative Procedure Act (434/2003). (www.tenk.fi)

According to TENK, key aspects of the responsible conduct of research are: adhering to the principles endorsed by the research community;  using sustainable data acquisition, research and evaluation methods; respecting the work of others; recording data in accordance with the requirements set for scientific knowledge; holding the necessary research permits; prescribed rights and principles concerning authorship; announcing commitments and conflicts of interest; and adhering to good personnel and financial administration practices with an eye towards data protection legislation.

TENK has published its guidelines Ethical principles of research in the humanities and social and behavioural sciences and proposals for ethical review. For example the ethical principles applicable to humanities  are divided into three categories:
1. respecting the rights of the research subjects to self-determination
2. causing no harm
3. privacy and data protection. (www.tenk.fi)

The Finnish Social Sciences Data Archive also maintains the Research Ethics and legal issues website (Finnish only).