Donat Agosti on big data, copyright and attribution in taxonomy

Wednesday, 9 April, 2014

The rapid growth and availability of large volumes of scientific data is commonly associated with genomics but has an increasingly important role to play in other biological disciplines. One such field that is set to change with the emergence of ‘big data’ is taxonomy. In order to make the most of taxonomic data, a comprehensive infrastructure is needed to compile lists of organism names for ease of access and sharing. Current US and European Union laws state that scientific names of organisms and their compilation into lists lacks the creative aspect that would make them subject to copyright. However for those who compile these lists, the issue of intellectual property rights still lacks clarity and is a topic of heated discussion. David Patterson from Arizona State University, USA, Donat Agosti, President of Plazi, Switzerland, and colleagues, tackle this problem in their recent study in BMC Research Notes, where they present a ‘blue list’ of elements they consider to be common components of a taxonomic list. These familiar elements by definition are not subject to copyright as they lack a creative aspect. Here Agosti explains how the blue list can help promote data sharing by clarifying what material is subject to copyright and what therefore is not, as well as how biological disciplines can tackle the emerging problem of managing big data in the digital world.