Arguments Against “Data Ownership”

The question of who “owns” data has reached the political arena. It has been discussed on the European level for some time now, and has in the meantime also been addressed in Germany. The German Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure, for example, is currently considering a data ownership right in connection with automated and autonomous driving. This issue stands in relation to the question of which potentially new regulations ought to be applied in the data-driven economy – the so-called “Industry 4.0”. That these questions have become an area of concern in politics is appropriate and important; however, short-term specifications are not called for and may even encourage unwanted developments.

The Max Planck Institute for Innovation and Competition addresses these questions from a scientific perspective. Thus far, in two position papers the Institute has determined which aspects should be considered and which challenges may result from legislative intervention. A brief summary of these analyses in the form of questions and answers is found below. The outcome is that the Institute wants to warn against simplistic considerations and hasty regulatory proposals. Current law permits broad, interest-appropriate decisions already. In particular, an additional “ownership right” in data is not only unnecessary, it is also rightly rejected by broad segments of German industry. Experience and research to date have effectively shown that participants do well when governed by contracts. If at anything all, questions may arise regarding access to data – but even then only in specific sectors. In no way are unilateral national actions advisable. The data-driven economy takes places globally and as far as possible uniform regulations should prevail, at least in the European internal market. Regulations that apply only in Germany may ultimately hinder rather than promote today’s industry and economy. This is the case, especially, if room to maneuverer and develop is restricted in comparison with international competitors.

10 Questions and Answers (pdf)