John Wilbanks opened his blog post regarding the Erosion of the Public Domain with the statement “This Chemspider licensing brouhaha is generating some needed discussions around open data, and something I keep hearing about is that it is GPL v. BSD all over again “. This relates to the recent blog post I posted regarding our renewed focus on our agenda of Building a Community for Chemists.

I cannot do justice to John’s manner of delivering his message. He hits the nail on the head. I quote “The public domain is not contractually constructed. It just is. It cannot be made more free, only less free. And if we start a culture of licensing and enclosing the public domain (stuff that is actually already free, like the human genome) in the name of “freedom” we’re playing a dangerous game.”

To be clear I never felt a need to put licenses on ChemSpider. People are using the content on ChemSpider, grabbing it, reusing it. We have provided web services to help people get more value out of the content. We will add more as time, resources and needs require it. The only reason we added licenses was pressure to do so. What was the pressure about? None of the USERS of the site ever put pressure on us and I don’t think CARE about licensing. They just use as is and seem happy to do so.

That said, I am looking for an education. Nay, REQUESTING it from people in the domain. Deepak Singh posted a comment on John’s blog post. “I do think that there is a lot of confusion around the differentiation around content (Creative Commons) and data (which is different). The data commons needs a different set of rules, and starting with a clear understanding of what Public Domain means and why it is a good thing.”

So, what is data, what is content? Is a structure and a series of chemical identifiers “Data”? Is a list of safety and toxicity information “Data”? Are a series of links to blog post and articles “Data”? Wikipedia is defined as content I believe. So, out of all of this discussion my question is whether ChemSpider is Content or Data. (Yes..I have my own views already!)

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One Response to “John Wilbanks on the Erosion of the Public Domain”

  1. Cameron Neylon says:

    Without wishing to be circual I suspect the legal definition is probably ‘facts of nature that do not involve a creative act’ and are therefore in the public domain. A structure (e.g. a crystal structure) is data, but the representation of it may not be. A wikipedia page is content. The ‘facts’ on it are data. But I’m no lawyer and I don’t think there is clear case law, and if there is it probably differs from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

    Which in the end is why the SC position is to suggest that people remove doubt by declaring everything to be in the public domain. If you can’t, or don’t want to, do that then it appears to get very messy very fast. I believe one scientific publisher has claimed that an NMR spectra off the instrument was content (can’t lay my hands on the example but I don’t think I made that up) but this seems untenable. But a well done drawing of a chemical structure might well be. Shades of grey and a great big pot of money for the lawyers.

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