delphij's Chaos


22 Jan 2004

ACM policy poll

I’ve voted “Strongly agree”. The policy is going to change as described:

Issue: Expanding US Legal Protections for Collections of Data

Background:The US Congress is currently considering legislation to create new ownership rights in a wide variety of factual data and information collected and contained in online databases. ( “Database and Collections of Information Misappropriation Act” 63k pdf)

It is common practice in science, education, government, and business to create data collections and make them available for others to use. Under current US law, once data and information are distributed to the public, they enter into the public domain. Researchers and consumers are then free to reuse them in countless ways.

Some commercial interests are concerned that their data collections will be used contrary to their interests, and are proposing changes to US law that would create new ownership rights in a wide variety of the data and information collected and contained in online databases. They suggest that the current array of existing US laws are inadequate in that they fail to provide protection from acts of unauthorized uses of data contained in databases.

The primary proponents of this position are the large information conglomerates and other firms with specialized interests in data ownership represented by the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA). (To review their arguments SIIA’s 2003 Congressional database testimony.)

A diverse coalition of database producers and users (the Netcoalition) opposes the broad legislative effort to expand legal protections for collections of data. They have concluded that the proposed legislation will lead to the growing monopolization of the marketplace for information, threatening the freedom individuals have to search, gather and exchange information over the Internet.

The coalition includes the National Academies of Science, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Consumer Project on Technology, the American Libraries Association, Amazon, Comcast, Google, Verizon, Yahoo, Bloomberg LP, Charles Schwab & Co., and the US Chamber of Commerce. (To review a summary of the Netcoalition’s concerns, see their website. To review the National Academies 2003 testimony by ACM Fellow Dr. William Wulf, see their website.)

ACM Council is being asked to adopt an association-level ACM policy position on the issue of expanding legal protections for collections of data as in the US legislation. As part of its mission, ACM fosters the open exchange of information, and, thus, the ACM Council encourages all members to provide feedback. For your information and comment, the proposed ACM policy position is posted below.

Proposed ACM Position on Extending US Legal Protections for Collections of Data
ACM is a publisher and maintains an online digital library. While we have a vested interest in the protection of our copyrighted information, we also shoulder a responsibility for our discipline to promote public policies that advance the open interchange of information in ways that lead to advances in computing technology of benefit to society.

ACM has concluded that current US laws provide adequate protection for collections of data. Additional legal protections would impact the availability and use of data and information that have traditionally been in the public domain, including government-funded data that might not be available from any other source. The open sharing of data and information has been fundamental to the advancement of knowledge, technology and culture. Any broadly constructed effort intended to increase protection for commercial data collections would restrict public data collections, thereby imposing an unwarranted cost on the process of scientific discourse.

Accordingly, ACM agrees with the National Academies of Science, the American Libraries Association, the US Chamber of Commerce, and other scientific societies, public interest groups and businesses that do not see a compelling need to extend new legal protections for collections of data at this time.