Copyright-sharing group delves into science

Creative Commons calls for more flexibility in sharing scientific data and discoveries.

Creative Commons, a nonprofit group aimed at carving out ways to share creative works, is expanding from the realm of copyright into patents and scientific publishing.

The Stanford, Calif.-based organization said Wednesday that it hired former CommerceNet executive Mark Resch as its new chief executive officer. It also tapped entrepreneur John Wilbanks to be the director of its newly formed Science Commons division.

"Wilbanks' addition as leader of the new Science Commons branch...marks a very exciting new phase, as the Creative Commons model is tested in uncharted areas of intellectual endeavor," Lawrence Lessig, Stanford Law School professor and organization founder, said in a statement.

The group's move into the scientific sphere could help add new weight to growing criticisms that the current patent process has become too inflexible and often awards too much protection to ideas that aren't genuinely unique.

This criticism has been particularly prevalent in computer circles, where companies own patents and have sought wide-ranging licenses on basic Internet features, such as streaming audio and video or launching applications inside Web browsers.

The Creative Commons group has served as a middle ground in the copyright wars that have pitted file swappers against record labels and movie studios worried about piracy. Lessig's group has pioneered an alternative copyright designation that enables artists, musicians and writers to allow sharing while retaining some rights to compensation.

A posting on the group's Web site says its board of directors had been considering moving into the area of science almost since inception but that it did not initially have the "expertise or technical capacity" to enter that realm.

An intellectual-property system that allows sharing between scientists is particularly important, given research grants that often make results proprietary, as well as recent international changes in patent law that expand the scope of data protection, the group said. The "commons" approach could help introduce needed flexibility, it added.

"Right at the historical moment, when we have the technologies to permit worldwide availability and distributed processing of scientific data...we are busy locking up that data and slapping legal restrictions on transfer," the Creative Commons site says. "Judicious balance is needed. The tendency to claim that property rights are never the answer, or that openness always solves all problems, must be avoided."

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