Thursday, August 02, 2012

Copy- paste: Oh I Infringed

Good to see everyone back

     First an apology for late post this week. I was too busy creating my own website Microboids, to link all my digital matter under a single self owned domain. And now this blog is under the Microboids category.

    "No matter how much we have improved on technology, and how good we microbiologists and pharmacy are, we are beaten to the core when it comes to microbes. And the viruses? We are many a times fighting a loosing battle..." said one of my friend (Name not revealed here). For a time i guess that is so true. We design new drugs and therapy through painstaking extraordinary research. After spending billions the companies build a marketable drug. And then? The microbe becomes resistant in a few month. Swap, just like that. But then we haven't lost everything. We really have conquered some. Its up to you microbiologists testify yourself in or against the debatable question, and i will leave it to you.

Photo 1: Rabid animal (Source)
     So what do i have in the news section? (I just named it so, for a convincing appeal of it). A drug called Vorinostat had previously made some news (I had written about this. Please check the post; Flush the hidden HIV out). I'm simply amazed at the time it had taken to come out in a journal. The article is in Nature (Link). The story is covered up in science news and in nature podcast 26 July 2012, termed "Smoking out HIV". A second news comes from the ability of we humans to direct one enemy of ours to another enemy. Sounds crazy right? Am talking about the paper that uses proteins implicated in Alzheimers disease to treat multiple sclerosis. OOh... Am impresses at this. The paper can be found here. I just am loving the way you people are shocked. So let me give you one more. There is almost no debate on if the rabies is fatal. There are just 2 cases i know of that escaped from rabies death sentence being infected without vaccination. In what is more famously known as The Milwaukee protocol or Wisconsin protocol this was thought to be achievable (Source), but is just horrible (Source) to treat a rabies infected person without vaccination. But now it seems that all people infected with rabies didn't die. Reality; many didn't even possibly know they had dealt with rabies virus. So goes my interpretation. Find more details here.

   Today i have a deviation from the usual paper or fundamental microbiology/immunology discussion. And i want to make a justification, before i move on. Basics and some fundamental rules always have a higher priority for discussion. I did want to write about many other cool microbiology out there. But, there's something more fundamental that i wanted to present here, which merits a discussion platform at least here. There are 2 actually- Plagiarism and the debate about access to publication.

    What is plagiarism? Most people simply put plagiarism as stealing from others ideas without endorsing proper credit to the original author. As a background information, i want to give you some brief idea about Intellectual property rights. If you want to know more about, Ethics which is broader version of this please refer to my notes section (Link).

    Intellectual property refers to a copyright and usage rights of an original work created by an individual or group. Based on the degree of usage and permissibility of usage the intellectual property may be roughly classified into 3 types
  1. Copyright works
  2. Patented works
  3. GPL (General public license)

    Copyright is a form of intellectual property protection granted under  law to the creators of original works of authorship. In context to India, the Copyright Act, 1957 came into effect from January 1958. This Act has been amended five times since then, i.e., in 1983, 1984, 1992, 1994 and 1999, with the amendment of 1994 being the most substantial. Prior to the Act of 1957, the Law of Copyrights in the country was governed by the Copyright Act of 1914. This Act was essentially the extension of the British Copyright Act, 1911 to India. (Copyright office, Gov of India)

    All the laws of copyright, in any country allows the author to deliver certain exclusive rights such as the right to copy in part or full, publish and use the work for further development without any hindrance. Further the copyright is usually conferred for a life time or a set number of years depending on legal system of the region and type of material. The copyright is represented by ©. Any violation of the copyright will be considered as illegal and referred as "Copyright infringement" or more commonly known as piracy. Copyright infringement occur when someone other than the copyright holder copies the work itself or the idea of work.

Exceptions to Copyright Infringements

     Exceptions to the copyright infringement rules, which allow one to reproduce another's work without obtaining a license or assignment of rights:

1.  Fair Use or Educational use:

     This is a doctrine which permits the reproduction of copyrighted material for a limited purpose of teaching, reviewing, literary criticism and the like. In publication of research works, many ideas may be derived from various sources. The ideas maybe copied, however they are required to mention the source of information and quote the original author. Such a work is not considered as piracy.

2. Public Domain

    This refers to works which are released by GPL or the ones for which a time period of copyright protection is no more valid.

3. Non-Copyrightable Works

    Copyright infringement cannot occur when someone uses material that cannot be protected by copyright, such as facts or ideas which is in common use (For e.g: The phrase "Sugar is sweet" is an universal idea. Nobody can copyright that).


      Patent refers to exclusive right granted by a government to an inventor to manufacture, use, or sell an invention for a certain number of years sufficient enough to make a justifiable profit. In most of the countries this is 20 years. This is in exchange for the public disclosure of an invention. A patent is not an exclusive right but rather, it’s a power authorized by the governing body to exclude others from using the invention. The patented methods may be used by educational institutes for non profitable research and education, without permission to do so from the owner of patent. The owner of the patent is also allowed to sell his work in part or full to others for which a document should be provided. If a method was invented by a scientist working for an institution and the work is a part of his routine assigned profession then, the inventor is not the owner of patent. Rather, the patent rights are given to the institution itself.

    This rule differs in various countries according to the legal codes. Breaking the code of practice of patent is called as Patent infringement. An exception exists by that the Government may use any patented invention without permission of the patentee, but the patentee is entitled to obtain compensation for the use by or for the Government.

General public license

     The concept of general public license or public use license is new in the field of medicine. The principle is that the credit of invention of material or ideas is given to the original author; but they can be legally copied, used, published, or even mended. A great example of GPL is that of Linux Operating system in computer science and Open access publishing in various journals.

Fig 1: Illustration of copyright law (Source)
So what is the benefits and risks of different types?

    In copyright and patents, the technology that is projected is not easily accessible. The development of a competitive technology requires fresh research and start from the lowest level. The GPL overcomes this hurdle, as the technology can be further developed from the current status without any legal obligations. This saves lot of resources which can be used for upgrading science. Also open access allows more ideas to flow and rapid improvement. The disadvantage is however that the original inventor may not make financial profit from his work. Owing to the fact that, the GPL is for common use, there is no issue of infringement unless you have cited.

Photo 2: Prime Minister Victor Ponta (Source)   
      *The decision of to what type of intellectual property the owner of work decides to use is the exclusive right of the author. No governing body can question or force the author to choose a specific type of IPR. To a limited extent this also depends on the type and nature of the work. The publication in journals therefore uses a copyright form which agrees upon the type of IPR the work will be classified into. Only after the authors consent is a paper published. Why do i have sudden interest in plagiarism? Well, i thought i need to talk about this after reading the story of  Romanian prime minister accused of copyright infringement. The story can be found here in nature news.

       The most important and almost a commonly asked question is "If i have created some material (say some publication), do i need to cite that for my subsequent article". The simplest answer for the issue would be "no". Why? Cause its your material. Your own intellectual property. None can question that. But let me warn you, the issue is not as simple as it presents to you.

     Consider a work has been created by you, such as a illustrative figure. (Let the copyright you used be of any type). If you have published this on a journal you would, as per the policies of journal, its no more entirely yours anymore. Of course, you would still retain the usage right at will provided that u cite. If on the other way you have nothing such as this, you may choose not to. But there would be an additional advantage in citing your own source. First, it shows you have imprinted this earlier and made a significant work on this. Second (more importantly), its likely that someone who wish to use the material may want more information which could be tracked through your citation and hence more hits for your work.

     There is a super advantage of attributing proper credit to the original author. Other than that you are free from plagiarism, if there is a mistake in the argument or statement made, the burden of defending it is more on the original author than the one who borrowed the argument. Do you need anything more than that?

   The second issue thats connected with this (But not completely) is that of access to publication. Let me start from scratch. Where does the money to do science come from for the scientists? From Government which is fueled by tax (Exceptions exist). And the tax is payed by the country men. So if public wants to know the result of a experiment they need to read from a journal. Simple. But if the publisher doesn't allow access to material till you have made a payment!! You pay for work to be done and you pay again to know what's done with your money!!! "Thats absurd" is my reaction.

   So the Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA) bill was passed (Link). This act required that the literature of work using public money should be made available to public irrespective of which journal you publish.  A group of 81 scholarly journal publishers opposed this bill (Source). Elsevier a massive publishing group with supposedly heavy charges for literature access, launched a great opposition to this bill. This created an outrage among the scientists. They decided to boycott the Elsevier publications. Several scientists signed a understanding that they wouldn't publish their work with Elsevier nor would be a peer reviewer for that (Source). Boy, Thats a massive blow to the company operating for years together.

   So now you see the importance of open access publishing. But i want to make a point here. These are just business models. Some journals choose to charge the reader (restricted access), some charge the writer (In most of the Open access), to bear for the charges of maintaing the journal. There is a 3rd model that is gaining popularity. Its a subtype of open access where the writers are not charged or charged very low in comparison to high publication charges in most of the open access journals. Here the journal is just not doing business i guess (I just laugh at this. I actually don't have a clear idea on how this model works).

   The advantages of publishing in an open access would include that you give public access to literature in return for the money they provided you for the work, and keep the glory. 2nd wider range of readership increases chances that you will be cited (adds to glory) and your work will see higher scientific advancement faster.
Zaenker KS. (2012). The emperor of all academic and cultural maladies in scientific writing: Plagiarism and auto-plagiarism. Inflammation & Allergy-Drug Targets , 2012 Feb 2. DOI: 10.2174/187152812798889367

Further Reading
  1. World Intellectual Property organization website, WIPO
  2. Daniel.lende. American Anthropological Association Takes Public Stand against Open Access. (Link)
  3. Meredith Schwartz.Elsevier Backs Off RWA Support; Still Opposes Mandated Open Access (Link)

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