Innovations In Research Threatened By Proposals To Restrict Exchange Of Data Among Scientists

December 09, 1997

Washington, DC -- December 9, 1997 -- Research towards a cure for AIDS, predicting global climate change, and mapping the Human Genome may be hampered by efforts underway to restrict the use of scientific data, according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

A statement from the AAAS Board of Directors sent to key Members of Congress and the Association's 235 affiliated science and engineering societies warned that proposals in Congress and at the World Intellectual Property Organization would restrict access to vital information stored in databases. Databases are used to compile a vast array of information that is shared among scientists, facilitating research and helping to make discoveries more rapidly available to society.

Beginning in 1998, scientists in Europe will be bound by new intellectual property protections specifically crafted for databases that could impede the sharing of scientific data. Commercial publishers of databases operating in the U.S. support similar protections for databases produced in this country. Last October, the U.S. House of Representatives considered a bill that would create a different type of legal protection for databases. It would make a person liable for fines or imprisonment for extracting from a database in a way that harms the database owner's actual or potential market for a product or service. Several scientific groups have expressed serious reservations with the bill, which will be discussed at a hearing tentatively scheduled for February. The AAAS statement points out that current copyright laws adequately protect databases, and contends that the proponents of these new protections have not adequately demonstrated the need for harsher restrictions.

According to the statement, "Impeding the flow of scientific data would serve neither private interests nor the public good. Everyone loses if scientists are prevented from completing promising research because their access to critical data is denied or too expensive. Intellectual property law must never become a disincentive to the full and open exchange of ideas and information in science."

Shared databases are essential to large, complex scientific investigations such as the Human Genome Project, global climate modeling, and AIDS research. Scientists often study several or similar databases for a single investigation, and these databases are also used in the peer-review process to ensure sound scientific investigation.

The statement points out that scientists no longer conduct research as individuals, but as teams of interdisciplinary collaborators who share information electronically. "In such arrangements, the sharing of data and results is more than a courtesy among colleagues, it is the path to the most productive work."

The Association represents the world's largest federation of scientists with more than 144,000 members and 235 affiliated scientific and engineering societies. It publishes the prestigious journal Science and administers EurekAlert! (www.eurekalert.org), featuring the latest discoveries in science, medicine, and technology.

American Association for the Advancement of Science

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