John Sulston calls for reform of IPR policy

Whether you support Open Access and Open Data or believe that Closed Access and patents are the best way of promoting high quality science, there is no doubt about the fact that restrictions on access to IPR area major drain on scientific effort. We all spend a significant point of time having to investigate contracts, and finding out whether or not we can actually do something. Now John Sulston has spoken out:

John Sulston, recipient of the 2002 Nobel Prize for medicine, has launched a new research institute, the Institute for Science, Ethics and Innovation at the University of Manchester. Sulston is using the launch to highlight his views on openness in science and the need to reform innovation and intellectual property policy. (Thanks to Subbiah Arunachalam.)

See the op-ed co-authored by Sulston and Joseph Stiglitz in the July 5 edition of The Times:

… The question of “Who owns science?” is therefore a crucial one, the answer to which will have broad-reaching implications for scientific progress and for the way in which the benefits of science are distributed, fairly or otherwise. Two of the most pressing issues concern equity of access to scientific knowledge and the useful products that arise from that knowledge. …

The second issue we wish to highlight is that of access to science itself. The ideal shared by almost all scientists is that science should be open and transparent, not just in its practices and procedures, but so that the results and the knowledge generated through research should be freely accessible to all. There is a broad consensus in the scientific community that such openness and transparency promotes the advancement of science and enhances the likelihood that the benefits of science are enjoyed by all. For more than a hundred years, these principles have been the bedrock of academia and the scientific community.

We call upon all interested in the future of science to join with us in an active and open-ended search for answers.

See also coverage in The Times and the BBC.

PMR: I hope that this message finds its way to the policy makers in academia as they have the power and the responsibility to act. In many cases the academic staff are unable to find the information they want or to allow it to reach those that they would hope to collaborate with. Not only are there patent and copyright restrictions, but universities often sign draconian contracts with the gatekeepers of scientific information. For example software companies can revoke licences or even sue the universities if we publicize bugs in the program. Publishers require libraries to sign contracts that forbid the use of the information in ways that individual staff don’t even know about. It’s only hearsay but I understand that these can include “excessive downloads” or data-mining.

In no way can any of this be seen as anything other than holding science back.

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2 Responses to John Sulston calls for reform of IPR policy

  1. Goodness, Peter, surely a serials librarian at your institution would be willing to show you some contracts! Why rely on hearsay?
    At my previous position, my supervisor handled the library’s proxy server. We certainly did have to deal with some “too much downloading” reports to keep publishers from yanking access.

  2. Pingback: Who Owns Science? « O’Really? at

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