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The Digital Technology Boomerang: New Intellectual Property Rights Threaten Global "Open Science"

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  • Paul A. David

Abstract

October 2000 There is a serious threat that ill-considered government support for expanding legal means of controlling access to information for the purpose of extracting private economic rents is resulting in the "over-fencing of the public knowledge commons" in science and engineering. Such a new "tragedy of the commons" would bring adverse long-run consequences for future welfare gains through technological progress, and re-distributional effects further disadvantaging the present economically less advanced countries of the world. Radical legal innovations in intellectual property protection that seriously jeopardize the effective conduct of open, collaborative science have been introduced by the little noticed European Database Directive of March 1996. This initiative forms an emblematic and substantively significant aspect of the broader set of transformations in intellectual property rights institutions that have been initiated in response to the economic ramifications of rapid progress in digital information technologies. The EC Directive poses numerous contentious issues in law and economics that will create ambiguities for business and non-profit activities in this area for years to come. The terms on which those issues are resolved will materially affect the costs and organizational feasibility of scientific projects that are of global reach and importance, especially those that depend heavily upon the collection, management and analysis of large volumes of observational data that cannot be regenerated. This paper sets out the economic case for the effectiveness of open, collaborative research, and the forces behind the recent, countervailing rush to strengthen and expand the scope of intellectual property rights protection. Focusing upon innovations in copyright law and the sui generis protection of hitherto unprotected content, it documents the genesis and analyzes the economic implications of the EC's Database Directive, and related legislative proposals (H.R. 3125, H.R. 354 and H.R. 1858) in the US. Several modest remedial proposals are advanced to mitigate the adverse impact of "the digital technology boomerang" upon open science. Keywords: intellectual property rights, copyright, sui generis protection of expressive material, economics of information-goods, open science, "fair use," scientific databases. JEL Classification: H4, K39, O31, O34

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Paper provided by Stanford University, Department of Economics in its series Working Papers with number 00016.

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Date of creation: Oct 2000
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Handle: RePEc:wop:stanec:00016

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Keywords: intellectual property rights; copyright; sui generis protection of expressive material; economics of information-goods; open science;

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  1. Bakos, Yannis & Brynjolfsson, Erik & Lichtman, Douglas, 1999. "Shared Information Goods," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 42(1), pages 117-55, April.
  2. David, Paul A, 1998. "Common Agency Contracting and the Emergence of "Open Science" Institutions," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 88(2), pages 15-21, May.
  3. Besen, Stanley M & Kirby, Sheila Nataraj, 1989. "Private Copying, Appropriability, and Optimal Copying Royalties," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 32(2), pages 255-80, October.
  4. Dasgupta, Partha & David, Paul, 1985. "Information Disclosure and the Economics of Science and Technology," CEPR Discussion Papers 73, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  5. Besen, Stanley M., 1986. "Private copying, reproduction costs, and the supply of intellectual property," Information Economics and Policy, Elsevier, vol. 2(1), pages 5-22.
  6. Liebowitz, S J, 1985. "Copying and Indirect Appropriability: Photocopying of Journals," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 93(5), pages 945-57, October.
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Cited by:
  1. Dominique Foray & Maurice Cassier, 2001. "Économie de la connaissance : le rôle des consortiums de haute technologie dans la production d'un bien public," Économie et Prévision, Programme National Persée, vol. 150(4), pages 107-122.
  2. Giovanni B. Ramello, 2004. "Pelle sub agnina latitat mens saepe lupina. Copyright in the marketplace," LIUC Papers in Economics 141, Cattaneo University (LIUC).
  3. Mario Calderini & Chiara Franzoni, 2004. "Is academic patenting detrimental to high quality research? An empirical analysis of the relationship between scientific careers and patent applications," KITeS Working Papers 162, KITeS, Centre for Knowledge, Internationalization and Technology Studies, Universita' Bocconi, Milano, Italy, revised Oct 2004.
  4. O'Mahoney, Siobhán & Ferraro, Fabrizio, 2004. "Managing the boundary of an 'open' project," IESE Research Papers D/537, IESE Business School.
  5. Mario Calderini & Chiara Franzoni & Andrea Vezzulli, 2005. "If Star Scientist do no Patent: an Event History Analysis of Scientific Eminence and the Decision to Patent in the Academic World," UNIMI - Research Papers in Economics, Business, and Statistics unimi-1004, Universitá degli Studi di Milano.

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