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Created: December 31, 2004.
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Science Commons Develops Legal and Technical Tools for Sharing Scientific Innovation.

The Creative Commons Project has announced the January 1, 2005 launch of the Science Commons as an exploratory project to "apply the philosophies and activities of Creative Commons in the realm of science."

Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization building technical and legal tools that that offer a flexible copyright for creative work. Building upon the legal principles of traditional copyright which know only about "all rights reserved," Creative Commons licenses and tools support an alternative "some rights reserved" framework for authors, artists, and scientists to share resources on the Internet and to search for shared resources based upon encoded metadata. The Creative Commons open source tools for embedding licenses, publishing resources, and searching for shared resources are based upon XML and RDF standards. Licenses typically are available as a human-readable commons deed, as lawyer-readable legal code, and as machine-readable digital (XML/RDF) code for embedding within resources. The licensing and distribution models make it unnecessary to involve commercial intermediaries and proprietary DRM software.

The mission of the new Science Commons is "to encourage scientific innovation by making it easier for scientists, universities, and industries to use literature, data, and other scientific intellectual property and to share their knowledge with others. Science Commons works within current copyright and patent law to promote legal and technical mechanisms that remove barriers to sharing."

Creation of the Science Commons endeavor is based upon the recognition that the sciences critically "depend on access to and use of factual data. Powered by developments in electronic storage and computational capability, scientific inquiry is becoming more data-intensive in almost every discipline. Whether the field is meteorology, genomics, medicine, or high-energy physics, research depends on the availability of multiple databases, from multiple public and private sources, and their openness to easy recombination, search and processing."

Creative Commons legal and technology tools are intended to combat the inflexibility of copyright, as well as the growing problems of protectionism based upon creeping legislation and court rulings that favor proprietary data lockup (patents). Traditionally, according to the Science Commons Project description, American intellectual property law (and, until recently, the law of most developed countries) did not allow for intellectual property protection of 'raw facts.' One could patent the mousetrap, not the data on the behavior of mice, or the tensile strength of steel. A scientific article could be copyrighted, but data on which it rested could not be. Furthermore, US law mandated that even those federal government works that could be copyrighted fell immediately into the public domain. In the sciences themselves, and particularly in the universities, a strong sociological tradition discouraged the proprietary exploitation of data (as opposed to inventions derived from data) and required as a condition of publication the availability of the datasets on which the work was based."

Freedom of information has become jeopardized, however, because "copyright law has evolved at a different rate" than web technologies, and "patent law has moved perilously close to being an intellectual property right over raw facts." Where it is obvious to any common person that the mapping of a gene is not an "invention" of any kind (at most a "discovery"), powerful lobbies backed by commercial interests have succeeded in broadening legal protectionism that can render such foundation knowledge proprietary. Developing nations and individual scientists are seeking for creative solutions to combat these dynamics which compromise the sharing of knowledge — information that should be regarded the common heritage of humankind.

The Science Commons has thus been formed "as a natural evolution of the Creative Commons role in the cultural world. Over the last two years almost five million Creative Commons licenses have been used to allow the sharing of music, pictures, academic course material, educational information, and so on. The licenses allow authors to define the nature of the agreement in terms of attribution, commercialization, derivative works and re-distribution." Participants in Science Commons activities will seek to extend these successful models to bodies of research data and to new open fora for scientific publication. Moving the competitive boundary forward to a point where universal access to scientific data is guaranteed will accelerate scientific discovery and applications based upon the richer baseline of common knowledge.

The Science Commons will "bring together the various stakeholders, including the universities, the technology licensing managers, the consumers of technology licenses, lawyers and technologists, to try to see how [to] create legal and technical products" for common use.

John Wilbanks, Executive Director of Science Commons envisages new kinds of licensing agreements "that allow institutions to waive certain rights. They might, for example, want to allow exceptions for developing countries, or for diseases of the global poor, or for non-profit use. 'The idea behind this part of Science Commons is that legal innovations and technical mechanisms could be put together, as we did for Creative Commons licenses in the culture world, to allow creators and owners of intellectual property to tag their scientific knowledge and data with details of the conditions for sharing the material. We would like to do that in such a way that neither the creator nor the user of the information has any unnecessary, involuntary blocks against sharing their property'."

Creative Commons Licenses: Examples

  • Baseline Creative Commons Licenses: There are a total of eleven such Creative Commons licenses to choose from. The license selection tools let you mix and match conditions from the list of options, involving basic sharing principles. With Attribution you let others copy, distribute, display, and perform your copyrighted work, and derivative works based upon it, but only if they give you credit. With Noncommercial conditions, you let others copy, distribute, display, and perform your work but for noncommercial purposes only. The No Derivative condition lets others copy, distribute, display, and perform only verbatim copies of your work, but not derivative works based upon it. The Share Alike condition allows others to distribute derivative works only under a license identical to the license that governs your work...

  • Developing Nations License: "The Developing Nations license allows you to invite a wide range of royalty-free uses of your work in developing nations while retaining your full copyright in the developed world. For the detailed terms, see the Commons Deed and Legal Code below. The Developing Nations license allows, for the first time, any copyright holder in the world to participate first-hand in reforming global information policy. The fact is that most of the world's population is simply priced out of developed nations' publishing output. To authors, that means an untapped readership. To economists, it means 'deadweight loss.' To human rights advocates and educators, it is a tragedy. The Developing Nations license is designed to address all three concerns..."

  • Music Sharing License: "The Creative Commons music license helps you: (1) Mark It Legal: Mark your music with the CC logo so fans know that you own your copyright, but give permission to download, file-share, copy, and webcast — but not to sell, alter, or make any other commercial uses. Here's an example of how it would look on a band's web page and here's a short comic describing how fans might legally use your music. (2) Promote It: Register your music at Common Content so people can contact you to purchase commercial rights to the composition or sound recording. Or, have it hosted for free at the Internet Archive. (3) Make It Searchable: Make your music searchable within the Creative Commons audio search engine..."

  • Sampling Licenses: "The Sampling licenses let you invite other people to use a part of your work and make it new. For example: take a sample from your song and include it in their own; to use a clip from your film; to take a piece of your photograph and put it into a collage. Think of it as a way to reward people for transforming your work into something it wasn't before. On certain conditions, that is. There are three flavors of the Sampling license. Pick the one that reflects your creative style..."

  • Creative Commons GNU GPL: "The CC-GNU GPL adds the Creative Commons' metadata and Commons Deed to the Free Software Foundation's GNU General Public License. The license is the official FSF GPL, and includes a Portuguese translation. To signal to others that you are using a Creative Commons license, you can use a Creative Commons logo, which links to the CC-GNU GPL. See the Human-Readable Commons Deed, the Lawyer-Readable Legal Code, and the Machine-Readable Digital Code." Note: a variant license for LGPL is also available (CC-GNU LGPL)

  • Public Domain Dedication: "Copyright-Only Dedication (based on United States law), or Public Domain Certification... The person or persons who have associated work with this document either (a) certifies that, to the best of his knowledge, the work of authorship identified is in the public domain of the country from which the work is published, or (b) dedicates whatever copyright the dedicators holds in the work of authorship... to the public domain."

  • The Founders' Copyright: "Rather than adopting a standard U.S. copyright that will last in excess of 70 years after the author's lifetime, the Creative Commons and a contributor will enter into a contract to guarantee that the relevant creative work will enter the public domain after 14 years, unless the author chooses to extend for another 14... In 1790, the U.S.'s first copyright law granted authors a monopoly right over their creations for 14 years, with the option of renewing that monopoly for another 14 [as] the Framers of the U.S. Constitution understood that copyright was about balance — a trade-off between public and private gain, society-wide innovation and creative reward..."

From John Wilbanks, Executive Director of Science Commons

BioMed Central, Open Access Now interviewed John Wilbanks, who has just been appointed as the Executive Director of Science Commons. Excerpts:

"Science Commons is the latest project developed by the non-profit organization Creative Commons. Inspired by the work of cyberlaw expert Lawrence Lessig of Stanford University, Creative Commons has developed an alternative copyright system to make literature, music, films, and scholarship freely available online. Science Commons plans to expand Creative Commons' work in the sciences by developing alternative mechanisms to allow scientists, universities, and industry to share data, knowledge and scientific intellectual property...

Wilbanks emphasizes that these can be naturally adapted to the scientific literature and the sharing of database information, pointing out that the Creative Commons licenses are already adopted by Open Access publishers such as Public Library of Science and BioMed Central. 'This is the traditional Creative Commons role as a neutral third-party public interest group. We can help create some alternatives that are both efficient and useable, that protect the rights of creators and owners of intellectual property who want to share.'

Wilbanks notes that although the existing licenses can be used, there are additional issues that are particular to the peer-reviewed publication domain, such as pre- and post-print licenses, licenses from one journal to another, and licenses for electronic archives. 'These areas are different from the creative culture world,' says Wilbanks. 'Our hope is to support Open Access by creating choices in licensing that are free and modular and open source.' 'Our hope is to support the sharing of scientific knowledge by creating choices in licensing that are free and modular and open source.'

The second aspect of Science Commons' work aims to look at the realms of patents and intellectual property licensing, and to identify areas where 'legal friction' is created as a result of the combination of modern technology and licensing practice. The Science Commons team acknowledges that some barriers to the flow of scientific data or scientific discoveries are necessary. For example, patents can be used to provide the incentives necessary to fund future research, notably in areas such as genomics and proteomics where the path to therapeutics is long and risky. But they feel that there are areas in which Science Commons can help to create mechanisms (licenses, contracts and technology) that promote the free flow of scientific knowledge and discovery..."

Related News: ccPublisher Version 1.0

Nathan R. Yergler (Software Engineer, Creative Commons) recently announced the release of ccPublisher 1.0. "ccPublisher is a tool for embedding Creative Commons licenses in MP3 files and for generating license RDF for any file type. It supports the uploading audio and video files to the Internet Archive ( for free hosting and cataloging. ccPublisher 1.0 is now available for Mac OS X and Windows. Both Windows (.msi) and Mac OS X (.dmg) files can be downloaded. Linux distributions will be available soon... The command line tools provide non-GUI access to the cctag libraries: (1) provides an interface to lookup license claims embedded in MP3 files; (2) inserts a license claim in an MP3 and generates the proper verification RDF; (3) embeds a claim statement in an MP3 file, but no RDF is generated." See also the blog entry of 2004-12-27.

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