Friday, September 14, 2007

Licences, copyright, IPR and more - some thoughts

Here some thoughts which came up whilst preparing for the TDWG meeting next week.

TDWG is about making data interoperable, thus leading, in the best case, to a seamless system of our knowledge linked to those of other domains.

This is a huge technical challenge, but by getting closer to technical solutions, other issues become relevant, such as who is generating content, how is content acknowledged and how is copyright and IPR handled.

This is especially important, since we now face for the first time a system, which aims at being the mother of all the biodiversity information, the Encyclopedia of Life which is playing the same game as the publishers of our scientific knowledge. Being corporate, they care about the copyright and IPR, and thus send out forms to transfer your rights to them. These are individual licenses which often lead to the situation, that you loose all rights, and thus we can not access our publications in an open way, be it as open access or via self archiving.

Our community has to be more vigilant the way we operate in this realm. We need to define what we want, and act accordingly. If we want to be able to have open access to our data, we should not sign contract which do not allow this. We have to negotiate individually and through whatever channels we have, such as our societies, that we only provide the publishers the right of the article for the specific publication they do, but that you can at least self archive or deposit the publications in thematic repositories, such as could be Zoobank.

Regarding access to databases, we have to be clear when we sign contracts like a Creative Commons license with institutions like EOL. Should they have the right to develop commercial products? Should they use a share a like license? If they want to produce commercial products, how is assured that the revenues are shared, or do you not mind? Should we allow individual contracts which at the end need zillions of lawyers? BHL is spending considerable amount of time to resolve all this existing contracts, so do all of the institutional repositories, and which seems clearly not something we want to initiate.

Regarding participation in initiatives which live on our data, it needs to be clear what each of the parties does. Do you build on the assumption, that you do not mind that one party is patenting some of the programs or should all what they do open source? For example, if UBIO at Woods Hole is patenting their taxonomic infrastructure, can we agree to that (search here for "Managing taxonomic information")?

We need a debate about this, and we should not let EOL go ahead, especially since many of us hope that it is a step closer to an open access infrastructure for biodiversity information. To signs right now are that we run into a lot of troubles and unease if we continue with what is happening right now, that is listen to the corporate lawyers and not of what we as a community really want.

So, before you signing any contracts, think twice. The publishers need your content, especially if it went through peer review. EOL needs our content, so you do not have to sign whatever you get offered. A discussion within bodies like TDWG would be very timely and useful.


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