Are We Legislating Away Our Scientific Future? The Database Debate

By: Dov Greenbaum The ambiguity of the present copyright laws governing the protection of databases creates a situation where database owners, unsure of how IP laws safeguard their information, overprotect their data with oppressive licenses and technological mechanisms (condoned by the DMCA) that impede interoperation. Databases are fundamental to scientific research, yet the lack of interoperability between databases and limited access inhibits this research. The US Congress, spurred by the European Database Directive, and heavily lobbied by the commercial database industry, is presently considering ways to legislate database protections; most of the present suggestions for legislation will be detrimental to scientific progress. The author agrees that new legislation is necessary, but not to provide extra-copyright protections, as database owners would like, but to create an environment wherein data is easily accessible to academic research and interoperability is encouraged; yet simultaneously providing database owners with incentives to produce new databases. One possibility would be to introduce standardized compulsory licensing of databases to academics following an embargo period where databases could be sold at free-market prices (to recoup costs). Databases would be given some sort of intellectual property protection both during and after this embargo in return for a limiting of technical