Nguyen on keeping data open and free

April 23rd, 2008 by dwentworth

In the wake of Creative Commons’ announcement last week that the beta CC0 waiver/discussion draft 2 has now been released, Science Commons Counsel Thinh Nguyen has written a short paper to help explain why we need legal tools like the waiver to facilitate scientific research. Writes Nguyen:

Any researcher who needs to draw from many databases to conduct research is painfully aware of the difficulty of dealing with a myriad of differing and overlapping data sharing policies, agreements, and laws, as well as parsing incomprehensible fine print that often carries conflicting obligations, limitations, and restrictions. These licenses and agreements can not only impede research, they can also enable data providers to exercise “remote control” over downstream users of data, dictating not only what research can be done, and by whom, but also what data can be published or disclosed, what data can be combined and how, and what data can be re-used and for what purposes.

Imposing that kind of control, Nguyen asserts, “threatens the very foundations of science, which is grounded in freedom of inquiry and freedom to publish.” The situation is further complicated by the fact that different countries have different laws for protecting data and databases, making it difficult to legally integrate data created or gathered under multiple jurisdictions. Using a “copyleft” license doesn’t mitigate the difficulty, since any license is premised on underlying rights, and those rights can be highly variable and unpredictable.

Finding a solution to these problems was the impetus behind the Science Commons Open Data Protocol, which Nguyen describes as “a set of principles designed to ensure that scientific data remains open, accessible, and interoperable.” In a nutshell, the idea is to return data to the public domain, “relinquishing all rights, of whatever origin or scope, that would otherwise restrict the ability to do research (i.e., the ability to extract, re-use, and distribute data).” The CC0 waiver and the Open Data Commons Public Domain Dedication and License (PDDL) are tools to help people and organizations do that, implemented under the terms of the Protocol.

Of course, there are many existing initiatives to return data to the public domain. What the Protocol aims to do, however, is bring all of these initiatives together. Explains Nguyen:

What we seek is to map out and enlarge this commons of data by seeking out, certifying, and promoting existing data initiatives as well as new ones that embrace and implement these common principles, so that within this clearly marked domain, scientists everywhere can know that it is safe to conduct research.

You can read the entire paper, Freedom to Research: Keeping Scientific Data Open, Accessible, and Interoperable [PDF], in the Science Commons Reading Room.

2 Responses

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