01 January 2008

Who owns ideas?

I'm working at the lab today, mostly to write a grant proposal. Now, many people would think I could do that easily from the comfort of home. It's a holiday, there is nobody but nobody else in the building (as far as I can tell), so why not just work at home?

Turns out it's very difficult to do any serious scientific writing (a grant proposal or manuscript) at home, because I constantly need to look up references. When I write something serious, I'm always being forced to track down papers I haven't read before. Or I have to find papers where I've read the abstract, but not the main text.

And I can't get to most of those papers from home.

I can from my lab, because it's a university. And the university has paid various publishers for the right to have electronic access to many of the journals I need to refer to when I do serious scientific writing.

That's a direct consequence of copyright and intellectual property issues, and the business models of scientific publishers, most of which are run by for-profit companies.

This week's Science Show has a really wonderful, thought-provoking set of talks about intellectual property issues. Highly recommended.

Indeed, to harken back to the last post, one of the things I think I've changed my mind about is about intellectual property. I used to be much more supportive of copyright protection overall. Now, I see more and more benefits of a more relaxed attitude towards accessing information, thanks to programs like the one above, Creative Commons (particular Lawrence Lessig's advocacy), the push towards Open Access, and more.

(And in addition to all the stuff about copyright, there's a bonus revelation about just how much power internet computing is using up. I never considered how much juice Google HQ must suck back.)

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