A recent U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS) symposium titled "The Role of Scientific and Technical Data and Information in the Public Domain" tackled the latest twists in an ongoing debate over the ownership and distribution of scientific and technical data. At the meeting, held 5 and 6 September in Washington, D.C., scientists, lawyers and policymakers addressed the implications of the increasing economic, legal and technological pressures to make large databases proprietary.

Scientists and engineers continue to churn out massive amounts of data related to everything from genomes to weather to computer software code. But some worry that pressures to privatize or legally restrict database access could hamper the scientific and technological enterprises by impeding the traditional free exchange of research results.

"There's a general presupposition that public science requires openness," explained symposium organizer Paul Uhlir, director of International Scientific & Technical Information Programs at the NAS. "Ultimately...

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