James Boyle Tells it Like it Is

James Boyle of the Duke Law School has an awesome op-ed in today’s Financial Times about the ridiculously mislabeled “Fair Copyright in Research Works Act” (introduced, I am chagrined to say, by a Senator from a state in which I used to live – but one for whom I never voted, at least…).

Given that I’m working on a study of scientists’ perceptions of the Human Genome Project’s open data policy, and given that all of my participants so far have basically told me that open data is the greatest thing since sliced bread, I vehemently oppose this absurd piece of legislation.  But at the moment, at least, I cannot think of any more eloquent or entertaining way to make the case than Boyle’s piece.  Here’s my favorite part:

As a copyright professor, I have to say the bill is a nightmare. For reasons I won’t bore you with, its limitations on Federal agencies are completely unworkable. And as a scholar who writes about innovation, I have to say that it flies in the face of decades of research which shows the extraordinary multiplier effect of free access to information on the speed of scientific development. But speaking as a human being, I just have to wonder what could be going through a politician’s head at a moment like this. How did the dialogue go?

Staff: ”Hey. Here is a Bill that 33 Nobel prize winners say will dramatically harm science. The current and former heads of NIH agree.”

Representative: ”What do they know about science! Let’s endorse it.”

Staff: ”A group of legal scholars says that it will mess up copyright law and undercut a central tenet of Federal information policy.”

Representative: ”Pshaw. We got our copyright opinion directly from the commercial publishers. They say it will be great! Why would they lie?”

Staff: ”And the patients’ rights groups say it will tragically limit patients’ access to medical studies that their own tax dollars have funded, and slow down research that could provide a cure more quickly.”

Representative: ”Whiners. Since when have sick people had anything useful to teach us about medical research?”

I mean seriously, right?  What do Nobel Laureates, NIH administrators, and patients’ rights groups know about science policy, after all? It’s not like they, I don’t know, deal with these issues every day, or anything.

You should read the rest.


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