Free Pathway Culture

According to this book by Lawrence Lessig, Free Culture, we are currently living in a permission culture. In our society you are required to ask permission before you copy, publish or derive from a work that was created by somebody else. If you don’t, you risk an expensive lawsuit.

But artists and inovators influence eachother. They always have. Especially in science progress comes from sharing results and building on top of the results of others. For scientists, permission culture is a nightmare.

The book is mostly about music and movies, but in the world of biological pathway databases the issues are the same. There are hundreds of collections of pathways available, but many of them are locked down. You can use a commercial pathway database to analyze and interpret your high-throughput experimental data, but you are not free to copy those pathways, extend them, derive from them, and publish the results on WikiPathways. This is understandable, after all, the makers of these commercial packages probably spent a lot of time and money on the creation of their high-quality, curated databases.

But imagine what we could do if all this information were free? Then suddenly everybody can contribute. You will never have to worry about legal details, what you can do and what you can’t do. Instead of many small databases, none of which are perfect, we can compile all free pathway information in the world into a single magnificent resource.

I think we have an opportunity here to set a standard for future generations, to set this content free once and for all. We have decided long ago that WikiPathways content will be available under a creative commons license. Our goal is to maximize the long term usefulness of the information collected in WikiPathways. The rules of the creative commons license are plain and simple. The only obligation you have is to attribute the pathway author(s), other than that you are free.

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One Response to “Free Pathway Culture”

  1. […] The root of all this discrimination is of course the opaque and complicated licensing deals that are required by the media industry. If you do not live in a large single market area (apparently everywhere but the US, UK or Germany), licensing deals become so complex that many companies don’t even bother. It’s all that is wrong with living in a permission culture […]