In its “Re-use of Public Sector information” website section, the Irish Data Protection Commissioner writes verbatim
All of the information featured on our website is the copyright of the Data Protection Commission unless otherwise indicated. You may re-use the information on this website free of charge in any format.
At first sight this statement might looks innocuous, but actually it carries a blatant mistake that will turns into a dangerous trend: imposing copyright on information.
In the EU, Copyright – better, the Right of Author – grants legal protection to the way an idea is creatively put in writing or in whatever way can be perceived by a human beings. In other words, this Shakespear’s quote from Hamlet’s Act II, Scene II
Though this be madness, yet there is method in ‘t.
is protected by the Right of Auhtor because of the “how” (creative form) rather than of the “what” (raw information). 1
Therefore, the statement of the Irish Data Protection Commissioner is a wrong enforcement of the Right of Author prerogatives.
But why is it dangerous too?
The talk I did at the 2004 Licensing Executive Society of Britain and Ireland Annual Conference, lately edited in a paper published by Ciberspazio e Diritto (English version available here) explains what is at stake:
The impossibility of securing patents did not stop the attempts to establish some sort of “ownership” on the genetic information, and alternative ways have been sought. As far back as 1987, Walter Gilbert, one of the pioneers in bioinformatics research, declared to the Washington Post: “I don’t believe in the patentability of the genome. What we are actually interested in is securing copyrights on the sequences. This means that if someone wishes to read the code, they will have to pay us to get access. Our goal is to make the information available to everyone. Provided they pay a price.
Imposing “copyright” over information, then, is not only wrong because there is no creativity on raw data. Is dangerous because it is a way to deprive people of their right to knowledge (right to science) and to be informed (free speech)
- Of course Hamlet is in the public domain regime, but the moral Right of Author still stands ↩