Friday, February 17, 2006
Biopiracy by Copyright
A recent letter to Nature by Donat Agosti, American Museum of Natural History, raises some interesting points about the possible interactions between copyright protection and biopiracy. Work in the Patenting Lives Project has been considering some related concerns - particularly in the area of scientific publication and access to the knowledge and information arising from research in biotechnologies. Agosti's letter refers to an earlier commentary piece in Nature, on ZooBank, an open access universal register for animal names, proposed by Andrew Polaszek (Executive Secretary of the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature, based at the Natural History Museum, London) and others. Agosti's concern is that the mandatory exchange of information under the Convention on Biological Diversity (to which the United States is not a party) is threatened by copyright restrictions on the media used to disseminate taxonomic information and research, and argues that such restrictions place costs on that information beyond the means of many developing (and biodiverse) countries. In this way, copyright is tantamout to biopiracy by removing (limiting) the access to biological information. The related interest in copyright has been similarly relevant to the Patenting Lives Project, so these comments are of particular interest. The ZooBank register proposes an open access solution to this. But the obstacles to the register, potentially posed by copyright, suggest a possibly intriguing contradiction between copyright and the accountability and responsibility of scientific research to its public.