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This is about the following question on Academia.SE. The OP in that question says that they have acquired some copyrighted data, which was made available to them on condition that they don't analyze it. They proceed to analyze it anyway, and discover something that ordinarily would qualify as good research. If they submit that research to a journal, can the journal legally publish it?

Looks related: The Legality of Publishing Hacked E-mails, although in this case it's not the data itself being published.

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  • We don't know the country of origin for the OP of the Academia question, nor of the data in question. Nor the license under which the data was originally acquired.
    – mkennedy
    Commented Oct 9, 2023 at 21:34

2 Answers 2

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The potential illegality would come from copying the data in the first place without permission. Permission to copy can be conditional, for example "you can only copy this work provided that you do not redistribute it", or whatever the license agreement says. The wording of the agreement is important, and I doubt that a clause like "providing that you don't analyze the work" would be held to be enforceable (that's way too vague a description of what is forbidden). The data itself is not protected, but the plaintiff could still prove that the defendant copied the work, and that they violated a fundamental condition of the agreement whereby permission was given.

However, the journal can legally publish the work, because the data itself is not protected, so the legal risk is to the author alone, for having violated the original license.

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As a general, facts are not copyrightable, and research ought to be based on facts. Copyright protects one specific expression of those facts, and the research likely does not depend on that. Literature as an academic field might be an exception, but that does not seem to apply in this case.

Now, academically there are serious problems with the reproducability of that research, but that's not a legal problem.

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