March 9, 1998 - Proposed Bill to Restrict Access to Databases

The Honorable Howard Coble
Chairman, Subcommittee on Courts and Intellectual Property
Committee on the Judiciary
U.S. House of Representatives
B-351-C Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Representative Coble:

The American Society for Microbiology (ASM) subscribes to the principle that knowledge generated by science is intended to benefit all humanity, and that such benefit cannot be realized without full and open access to information. Since H.R. 2652, the Collections of Information Antipiracy Act, as written, proposes perpetual exclusive protection for databases, it is contrary to the full and open access principle. H.R. 2652 will interfere with the availability and use of information that is essential for our nation's scientific community to maintain its current high standard of education and exceptional progress in research.

The ASM is the largest single life science society in the world, with over 43,000 members, including scientists and science administrators in academic, industrial and government institutions, working in genetics and molecular biology as well as in agriculture, the environment and medicine. ASM members are creators and users of databases, and the Society strongly recommends that new legislation proposed for databases balance a concern for protection of the rights of database producers with accommodation of the needs of the scientific educational and research communities for full and open sharing of information.

The continued development of vital areas of research, such as genomic studies, combinatorial chemistry and bioinformatics, is database dependent. There is need, therefore, to guard against entrepreneurs who will repackage, claim copyright and charge educators and researchers for the use of data which is already, or would otherwise be, in the public domain. Important genetic resources and details of drug design compiled on a continuing basis and released to the public by the National Institutes of Health and by other agencies, could be commercialized by enterprising individuals, defeating the attempt to make this information available to all to use in the search for new drug targets and drugs to treat genetic disorders and infectious diseases.

Databases are protected under existing copyright law. Moreover, by appropriate application of fair-use, contracts, licensing and other technical measures, it is possible now to balance public and private interests in databases. The ASM does not believe extraordinary protection for databases is justified at this time, and the Society views H.R. 2652 as an unnecessary constraint on full and open exchange of information.

The ASM concurs in the opinion of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences (AAAS) that proposals to protect the rights of database producers in the marketplace, must guard against granting disproportionate power which will increase the costs of education and research and make access to valuable information more difficult. Moreover, the ASM joins the AAAS in calling for "Those in favor of greater database protection beyond the legal regime and market forces that have preserved the delicate balance among competing interests so effectively in the past, to assume the burden of demonstrating a genuine, compelling threat to their industry that requires new legislative action."

The ASM appreciates this opportunity to comment on H.R. 2652 and it is prepared to assist in future efforts to consider matters pertaining to copyright and database protection.