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Briefing Date:10/14/1999
Topic:Private Rights and Public Interest in Scientific and Technical Databases

THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES
National Research Council
Commission on Physical Sciences, Mathematics, and Applications
Committee for a Study on Promoting Access to Scientific and Technical Data for the Public Interest

*****

Congressional Briefing
Thursday, October 14, 1999 - 4:00 p.m.
1129 Longworth House Office Building

on

A QUESTION OF BALANCE:
PRIVATE RIGHTS AND THE PUBLIC INTEREST IN
SCIENTIFIC AND TECHNICAL DATABASES

by

ROBERT J. SERAFIN, Director, National Center for Atmospheric Research, and Chairman, Committee for the Study on "Promoting Access to Scientific and Technical Data for the Public Interest," National Research Council

HARVEY S. PERLMAN, Professor, College of Law, University of Nebraska, and Member, Committee for the Study on "Promoting Access to Scientific and Technical Data for the Public Interest," National Research Council

Legislative efforts are currently under way in the United States, the European Union, and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) to greatly enhance the legal protection of proprietary databases. One of these efforts, the European Union's 1996 Directive on the Legal Protection of Databases, already has been finalized and is now being implemented by the European Union's Member States, while other legislative initiatives in the U.S. Congress and WIPO are still pending action.

As discussed in detail in the predecessor report to this study, Bits of Power: Issues in Global Access to Scientific Data (National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1997), and elsewhere, these new legal approaches threaten to compromise traditional and customary access to and use of scientific and technical data for public-interest endeavors, including not-for-profit research, education, and general library uses. At the same time, there are legitimate concerns by the rights holders in databases regarding unauthorized and uncompensated uses of their data products, including at times the wholesale commercial misappropriation of proprietary databases.

A QUESTION OF BALANCE: PRIVATE RIGHTS AND THE PUBLIC INTEREST IN SCIENTIFIC AND TECHNICAL DATABASES, a new report from a committee of the National Research Council, explores issues in the conundrum posed by the need to properly balance the rights of original database producers or rights holders versus the rights of all the downstream users and competitors, with the principal focus on the balance of rights between the database rights holders and public-interest users such as researchers, educators, and librarians.

This briefing was for members of Congress and congressional staff only. The report was publicly released on October 19, 1999 and can be found, in its entirety, on the Web site of the National Academies Press.

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