In almost everything we do, the law is present. However, we know that strict adherence to the law is not always observed for a variety of pragmatic reasons. Nevertheless, we also understand that we ignore the law at our own risk and sometimes we will suffer a consequence.
In the realm of collaborative endeavour through networked cyberinfrastructure we know the law is not too far away. But we also know that a paranoid obsession with it will cause inefficiency and stifle the true spirit of research. The key for the lawyers is to understand and implement a legal framework that can work with the power of the technology to disseminate knowledge in such a way that it does not seem a barrier. This is difficult in any universal sense but not totally impossible. In this article, we will show how the law is responding as a positive agent to facilitate the sharing of knowledge in the cyberinfrastructure world.
One general approach is to develop legal tools that can provide a generic permission or clearance of legal rights (e.g., copyright or patent) in advance (usually subject to conditions) that can be implemented before or at the point of use. This has become known as open licensing and will be discussed below in terms of copyright and patented subject matter. 1
However, open licensing will not be adopted by everyone nor in every situation is it suitable. A generalisation is that it will be advocated in the context of publicly funded research producing tools and knowledge upon which platform technologies are built where considerations such as privacy are not an issue.
Where open licensing is not being used, the many parties to a collaborative endeavour will normally be required to map the scope and risk of their mutual endeavour through a contract. Contracts can take time to negotiate and, in many instances, promise to frustrate the fast paced and serendipitous nature of research fuelled by high powered cyberinfrastructure. To this end a number of projects throughout the world, for example The Lambert Project in the UK,2 the University Industry Demonstration Project (UIDP) in the USA,3 and (amongst other projects) the 7th Framework Project in the EU,4 have begun asking how we might be able to improve this situation. Suggestions include standard form or off the shelf contracts covering a variety of situations, a database of key clauses and, in the case of the UIDP project, a software based negotiation tool called the Turbo-Negotiator. Legal instruments that can match the dynamic of the technology and appear seamless and non-invasive are the goal. More work in this area is needed (and happening) and is critical to ensuring we have the law and technology of cyberinfrastrcuture working to complement each other.
In the remainder of this article we will focus on the open licensing model.