Factual data are both an essential resource for and a valuable output from scientific research. It is through the formation, communication, and use of facts and ideas that scientists conduct research and educate students. Our nation has a vibrant and demonstrably productive sector of S&T database producers, disseminators, and users that has led the world. Advances in computing and communications technologies make S&T databases and the facts they contain increasingly valuable for producing new discoveries and for accelerating the growth of knowledge and the pace of innovation. The same technologies that facilitate the effective production, dissemination, and use of digital databases, however, can also expedite their unauthorized dissemination and use, undermining incentives to create new databases, enabling unfair competition and wholesale misappropriation, and in the most extreme cases, exposing the original database rights holder to market failure.
The institutions, organizations, and individuals involved form a highly complex web of interrelationships—some competing and some complementary, some creating or using original data collections or derivative productions, and spanning activities in both public and private, national and international, and scientific and non-scientific contexts (see Table S.1 for some representative examples of different types of S&T database activities). Although these diverse actors all have their own goals and motivations, they nonetheless may be broadly characterized in three fairly distinct groups. The first is the government sector, which produces S&T databases as a public good and has a mandate under OMB Circular A-1304 to disseminate the fruits of those activities as broadly and openly as possible, and to provide efficient access. The second is the commercial-Sector, which produces databases as a private good and typically maintains those data on a proprietary and restricted basis, either for internal purposes or for commercial vending, with the goal of full cost recovery plus profit. The third is the not-for-profit sector, which includes universities, research institutes, and various public-interest organizations that produce databases in support of their institutional mission and typically disseminate data on a cost-recovery basis, which can cause them to take a middle ground in terms of treating their databases as a public or a private good.
As users of databases, all three sectors support the public good approach of the federal government to data distribution, and all seek to minimize the costs they may need to pay for access to and use of data from private-sector sources. A principal concern of the committee is that the development of any new database protection measures directed toward protecting private-sector investments take into account the need to promote access to and subsequent use of S&T data and databases not only by the not-for-profit sector, but by for-profit creators of derivative databases as well.