Boston College Libraries Faculty Newsletter


FALL 2005

Creative Commons and Science Commons

Copyright Symbol with Paper

The legal troubles of Grokster and Google Print have made headline news of complex questions of copyright and digital duplication. While readers and listeners have rejoiced at the unprecedented availability of content online, many content producers have panicked at the prospect of copyright infringement on a massive scale, enabled by the technological ease of making and exchanging copies.


Book publishers and the entertainment industries have reacted by lobbying for legal restrictions on companies that facilitate or undertake duplication of copyrighted materials. Perhaps this is understandable—new technologies that encourage the flouting of copyright law mean lost revenue, or so the reasoning goes. But some observers argue that these industries seek excessive control that will undermine innovation and expression, as well as endangering potentially lucrative means of promotion and delivery.


Rather than worry that new technologies jeopardize the protections of copyright, some scientists and scholars are concerned about the reverse: They fear that intellectual property restrictions are needlessly impeding the free flow of ideas and information encouraged by the Internet. Science Commons, a project of the organization Creative Commons based at M.I.T., was established earlier this year to address these concerns. Science Commons works for intellectual property reform in three areas of scientific research: publishing, licensing, and data.


Creative Commons was founded in 2001 to find solutions that protect authors' rights while still offering the possibility of unfettered distribution, duplication, and derivation. Creative Commons has developed a set of licenses that authors can adopt to ease restrictions on others' use of their work. The licenses give copyright holders options for permitting or restricting commercial use of their work and the creation of derivative works, and, if derivative works are allowed, for mandating that derivative works use the same Creative Commons licensing terms. All other uses of the work are permitted by the licenses.


The Science Commons Publishing Project builds on the work of Creative Commons, advocating the removal of legal barriers to the circulation of scholarship under the principles of open access. Some open-access publishers, including Public Library of Science and BioMedCentral, have adopted the Creative Commons Attribution License, which lets readers download, reuse, reprint, distribute, or copy articles as long as the original author and source are credited. Science Commons recently launched the Open Access Law Program, which aims to make legal scholarship available without undue copyright restrictions and without cost to readers. Under the program, Science Commons has drafted Open Access Law Journal Principles and an Open Access Law Author Pledge that let journals and scholars commit publicly to the ideals of open access. Thirty legal journals worldwide have currently adopted or have policies consistent with the principles. Science Commons has also created the Open Access Model Publishing Agreement, which is available online as a ready means for authors and journals to implement Creative Commons licenses in their work.


In addition to the current concern of restricted access to scholarly and scientific publications, the end product of research, Science Commons is also focusing on emerging concerns about copyright restrictions to scientific data, the raw material of research. The longstanding tradition of the exemption of facts from copyright protection under U.S. intellectual property law faces an uncertain future. The EU in 1996 enacted a Database Directive that grants factual databases copyright protection, and some fear that a similar measure looms in the United States ' future. Apart from legal restrictions, database providers in the U.S. have created de facto copyright protections for factual data by producing databases that combine copyrighted material with factual data in a way that makes it difficult to deal separately with the factual data, both legally and as a practical matter of access. In addition, more restrictive approaches to managing and sharing data are emerging in the scientific community, with some scientists wary of losing control of data and some subject to limiting institutional requirements. Science Commons is planning to document these issues and to develop legal solutions for databases using the same “some rights reserved” philosophy of Creative Commons.


The third area of Science Commons' efforts, licensing, moves beyond the realm of copyright into issues surrounding patents, technology transfer, and intellectual property licensing. Federally funded researchers are encouraged by the government to seek commercial uses of research, and universities have established technology transfer offices that perform specialized functions related to the patenting and licensing of inventions. These patents and licenses have extended to some basic aspects of research, including methods and materials such as cell lines, model animals, DNA constructs, chemicals, software, and databases. The academic, medical, and industrial organizations that hold these patents license them to other institutions through “material transfer agreements” that can become complicated and costly to navigate and administer, creating a barrier to research. Science Commons is currently undertaking exploratory efforts in this area, asking questions about the role of funding organizations, corporations, and universities in using standard, open agreements to facilitate licensing and materials and exchange, and about which existing agreements might be good candidates for standardization.



Michelle BaildonMichelle Baildon
Acting Collection Development Librarian, History and Political Science

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