Free the data!

law books by umjanedoan
The confusion over data rights:
[Via business|bytes|genes|molecules]

As a side note, I talked to a colleague who got harassed at the Ichs and Herps meeting for… gasp… downloading sequences from GenBank and using them without asking the author’s permission! Good lord, what is the world coming to? I’m surprised to hear of such active resistance to public availability of information.

Paulo Nuin pointed to a blog post on Phylota on Friendfeeed earlier today. The post is interesting in itself, but paragraph above, which was an aside on the post, blew my mind away. There was a time when I had the naive opinion that academics were all about the open dissemination of science, especially the sharing of basic scientific data. Alas, it turns out that for some the public domain is not exactly that. I suppose that this is a minority opinion, but it is clear that the confusion about scientific data and ownership needs to be resolved and fast. It should be obvious, but it isn’t and even those of us who should know better get confused. In the above case, if there was a paper where the data source had not been cited properly is understandable, but downloading and using sequences; Yowza!!!

There is a distinction between data and content/information. Too many people have trouble making the distinction and as a result there is confusion the ownership rights around the two. Anyway, this issue isn’t going anywhere soon it seems.

IANAL but I believe that data can not be controlled by copyright. The way the data are can be protected by copyright. The database containing the data can be protected but not the data itself.

But I certainly do not know how things would work from downloading a sequence and manipulating it to create new knowledge. Derivative works are allowed or Andy Warhol would not have had a living.

And were the data were generated using Federal money and from a public database, well, I would think there would be even less protection.

Finally, i would expect that any researcher who went around suing others because someone downloaded a sequence to manipulate would have some very strong social pressure put on them to desist.

I do not see where permission must be asked to download sequences from an accessible database. That is why they are there.

But never underestimate the ‘obtuseness’ of a determined lawyer, I guess.

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One thought on “Free the data!

  1. Well, Warhol lived in a simpler time, at least in terms of copyright and trademark. One would assume that these days he’d be sued out of existence. He’d probably win his case, but would have long been driven broke before it came to court.

    Speaking of Warhol, I particularly enjoyed Laurie Anderson’s recent comments on him:
    “I feel like we are living in Andy’s world now. It’s the world that he defined in so many ways and his obsessions with fame and violence and ego. You just look around and go, “Wow, he was doing that 30 years ago!”

    American culture was going that way and he nailed it. It’s completely fascinating how he came up with those categories and American life became that way.”

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