Science Commons

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The Science Commons is a project by the Creative Commons initiative to explore how the Creative Commons licenses can be used to support Open Access for scientific literature.

The concept probably has a broader meaning as well as the part of the Information Commons that is related to scientific knowledge. Here's is an intro on sharing in science

URL = http://sciencecommons.org/about/scbackground

It is associated with a Material Transfer Agreement Project.


Description

"Science Commons is not a license, it is a new project.

From the website: http://creativecommons.org/weblog/entry/5695

Science Commons works on these problems: inaccessible journal articles, tools locked up behind complex contracts, socially irresponsible patent licensing, and data obscured by technology or end-user licensing agreements. We translate this into projects, with work in three distinctly different project spaces: publishing (covered by copyright), licensing (covered by patent and contract) and data (in the US, covered only by contract). We work on agreements between funders and grant recipients, between universities and researchers and between funders and universities—all in the service of opening up scientific knowledge, tools and data for reuse. We also promote the use of CC licensing in scientific publishing, on the belief that scientific papers need to be available to everyone in the world, not simply available to those with enough resources to afford subscription fees."


The Science Commons Protocol

"In December 2007, Science Commons released their Protocol for Implementing Open Access Data. This protocol, written in the same style as a Request For Comment (RFC), outlines a legal standard for open access to data based on three principles:

  • the protocol must promote legal predictability and certainty
  • the protocol must be easy to use and understand
  • the protocol must impose the lowest possible transaction costs on users


Guided by these three principles and Science Commons' experience in maintaining their database FAQ on Creative Commons licences and data, they arrived at an approach that calls for waiver of relevant IPRs so that data could be treated as close to being in the public domain (without IPRs) as possible. Thus the protocol calls for waiver of:

  • copyright
  • the sui generis database right in the European Union mentioned above and similar protections
  • implied contract rights and rights in tort or delict such as unfair competition or trade secrets

This protocol gets enforced through the use of an "Open Access Data Mark", which will be managed by Science Commons and the sister organisation Creative Commons. They will limit use of the mark to licensing schemes that comply with the protocol, so that users can be assured that the data labeled with the mark meets the criteria of waiving IPRs. The Science Commons protocol thus sets a standard that any licensing scheme can implement." (http://www.osbr.ca/ojs/index.php/osbr/article/view/516/475)

Background

John Wilbanks: "Science Commons (SC) was launched in early 2005. SC is a part of Creative Commons - think of us as a wholly owned subsidiary - drawing on the amazing success of CC licenses, especially the CC community and iCommons. But we're also a little different. Whereas CC focuses on the individual creators and their copyrights, SC by necessity has a broader focus. That necessity is caused by, for example, the fact that most scientists sign employee agreements that assign intellectual property rights to a host institution. Another example is that scientific journals regularly request that scientific authors sign over their copyrights, and scientists eagerly do so in return for citations in what are called "high impact" journals. There's a very real collective action problem here: no one individual or institution has strong incentives to change the system.

But the system is causing problems in the scientific and academic communities. Scientific articles are locked behind firewalls, long after their publishers have realized economic returns. This means that the hot new article about AIDS research can't be redistributed much less translated into other languages (where it might inspire a local researcher to solve a local problem). The difficulties faced in relation to the "open access" of publications are easy compared to those presented when we consider access to tools and data. Published research indicates that nearly half of all geneticists have been unable to validate research from colleagues due to problems with secrecy and legal friction.

So Science Commons works on these problems: inaccessible journal articles, tools locked up behind complex contracts, socially irresponsible patent licensing, and data obscured by technology or end-user licensing agreements. We translate this into projects, with work in three distinctly different project spaces: publishing (covered by copyright), licensing (covered by patent and contract) and data (in the US, covered only by contract). We work on agreements between funders and grant recipients, between universities and researchers and between funders and universities—all in the service of opening up scientific knowledge, tools and data for reuse. We also promote the use of CC licensing in scientific publishing, on the belief that scientific papers need to be available to everyone in the world, not simply available to those with enough resources to afford subscription fees." (http://creativecommons.org/weblog/entry/5695)


Interview excerpt

From Seed magazine:

"NYAS: How is Science Commons different from Creative Commons?

Wilbanks: The primary way that we convey scientific knowledge is to compress it down into text and distribute that through a journal. But with the Internet we can now distribute a lot of the tools, data, stem cells, and so forth that used to simply be described in the paper. Making data useful to people who didn’t generate it is the most important problem, and it requires an enormous investment of time, infrastructure, curation, data standards, standard formats, and giant computers that can store it. If you add the law to that complexity, you have what we would call an NP-hard problem. Unsolvable.

When we got into this, we thought that the way we license software or literature was going to be the solution—that a Creative Commons license would take care of the problem. But data is much more foundational than literature or software and it’s more like the Web than it is like software. In other words, we all take software and run it, but the human genome is the knowledge equivalent of the Internet—it’s the common language of biotech, and if that foundational architecture imposed downstream restrictions it would really screw things up.

The genome being in the public domain was much better than the genome being licensed. Imagine if every time a distributed annotation server ran across the genome it had to attribute whoever put that piece of genome online?

What we use instead of the law there is citation. You know that if someone published the first paper about that piece of the genome, when you write your paper you should add a citation to it. Citation norms scaled much better than the legal aspect of licensing. So we stopped working on licensing for data and we started working on public domain pools for data. We worked on a tool called CC0—Creative Commons zero—which is a legal tool that achieves a legal status that is similar to the public domain. The idea is to waive the rights that are associated with data.

Let’s say you and I try to generate something like the genome now. If we had the money, we could sequence both of our genomes in a couple of days. But there are little bits of copyright that stick around data when you put them into a database in the U.S. They attach not to the data itself, but to the look and feel and the structure of the database. It’s unclear to many people where those rights stop and start, so the first thing CC0 does is waive those elements.

If we want to have that data be interoperable with the public genome, we have to get rid of the database rights and the copyrightable pieces of it. The second thing CC0 does is get rid of those database rights. If we can make things legally interoperable, then the only problems we leave are the monstrously complicated technical and semantic ones.

So we wrote the Science Commons Protocol for Implementing Open Access Data. The first two requirements are: waive your intellectual property rights to the extent they exist, and don’t put a contract on your data. The third requirement is to request behavior through norms, not through the law. That’s about using citation, not attribution. In science, citation scales in a way that attribution doesn’t, because attribution is tied to this very old way of thinking about copyrightable object as opposed to massive data structures." (http://seedmagazine.com/content/article/science_2.0_pioneers/)

More Information

  1. Essay in MIT's Innovations Journal, at http://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/pdf/10.1162/itgg.2007.2.3.137?cookieSet=1
  2. Five years of Science Commons, what are the issues: http://www.ethanzuckerman.com/blog/2010/03/09/john-wilbanks-on-science-commons-and-generativity-in-science/