Intellectual Property Rights - proposed changes

Karen Wilson Karen_Wilson at RBGSYD.GOV.AU
Mon Oct 28 08:50:39 CST 1996

     At the recent biennial CODATA conference in Japan we were told about
     changes proposed for intellectual property rights in databases (see
     text below handed out at that meeting) that are alarming, especially
     given recent problems of funding for biological research.

     These changes have NOT been widely discussed in or with the scientific
     community, despite their immense relevance to us. We have come to take
     for granted 'public interest or fair use' exceptions for scientific
     and educational use of printed material (although I understand that
     even that might change), and we should certainly be involved in any
     discussion of their abolition in the electronic area.

     WIPO is meeting in December to discuss this matter. The Berne
     Convention does not cover all countries, of course, but it covers
     enough countries to make this a very serious matter. Whether you are a
     database user or producer, please talk to the relevant bodies in your
     own countries in the short time before then, and ensure that they are
     aware of the ramifications of what is being proposed.

     Karen Wilson

     *Handout text:

                         DATABASE PROPERTY RIGHTS

     A new legal regime being proposed in the World Intellectual Property
     Organization (WIPO) would establish a new intellectual property right
     in the contents of databases that would:

     ** Prohibit unauthorized extraction, use, or reuse of any database, or
     any substantial portion of a database (as defined by the database
     vendor), and effectively establish the basis for a pay-per-use system.

     ** Remove ALL data that are of commercial interest to ANY publisher
     from the public domain WITHOUT any public interest or fair use
     exceptions such as those traditionally used for scientific and
     educational purposes.

     ** Make PERPETUAL protection the norm for databases that are updated,
     as is typical for electronic databases, because a 25-year initial term
     of protection is renewable with EVERY new change or addition to a

     ** Include strong civil and criminal enforcement provision, INCLUDING
     third-party liability provisions (that is, it would extend to an
     unwitting intermediary or disseminator).

     ** Raise serious constraints on fundamental procedures in science and
     education, undermining the ability of researchers and educators to
     access and use scientific data.

     This issue will be considered by the WIPO as an amendment to the Berne
     Convention. If ratified, it will become the new international norm in
     intellectual property law. To date, there has been little or no
     discussion of this issue in scientific or academic communities. The
     WIPO conference on this subject will take place in Geneva, 2-20
     December 1996.

     For further information, contact:

     Ferris Webster
     Chair, ICSU CODATA Working Group on Data Access

     Tel:   1-302-645 4266
     Fax:   1-302-645 4007
     Email: ferris at

     26 September 1996

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