Research Resource Commons workshop

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PDF version available here.

Workshop on Research and Resource Commons in Scientific Research: Final Report

  • American University, Washington College of Law
  • November 17-18, 2011
  • Michael Carroll, Professor of Law and Director, Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property, Washington College of Law at American University, Washington, D.C.


In November of 2011, the Washington College of Law at American University convened and hosted a two-day workshop in collaboration with the Creative Commons to develop a strategy for promoting a commons or scientific research and related resources. The workshop brought together interested stakeholders from across the scientific research enterprise: scientists, administrators, librarians, publishers, societies, technologists, lawyers, policy makers, students, funders, and Open Science advocates, including both U.S. and international representatives. This diverse group discussed the current state of policy and technology as it relates to a scientific research commons, and identified key opportunities and challenges, as well as next steps, for the scientific community in general and Creative Commons in particular. These opportunities will inform the next phase of the Science program at Creative Commons and include legal and policy issues, education and technology efforts, and partnerships that will better leverage our efforts going forward.


Rapid advances in information technology, and their uses in the inputs and outputs of scientific research, are far ahead of the legal and policy framework that supports science. A range of initiatives have emerged in the past decade to catch up, including changes in the grants policy at the National Institutes of Health to require public access through PubMed Central to peer-reviewed journal articles arising from NIH-supported research, university-based initiatives to improve open access to the scientific literature and to use institutional repositories as sites for data sharing, and the recent National Science Foundation requirements concerning grantees' data management plans. The time is ripe to review these and other initiatives to assess what lessons can be generalized. In particular, the rapid growth of digital scientific data, the complex status of these data under intellectual property law, and requirements that these data be managed responsibly, suggest that an open, commons-based approach could be particularly useful for addressing these phenomena.

A research or resource commons requires agreement among providers and participants about its legal structure, the technical requirements for its resources, and a shared understanding about how to sustain the commons. Legal issues, usually involving intellectual property or contract law, often arise as researchers, or research funders, seek to build commons or commons-based tools, such as Creative Commons[1] licenses. The objectives for the workshop were:

  • To review lessons learned from those who have worked to build or to promote the use of commons structures to support scientific research from within the federal government and from the private sector, including the non-profit sector. This would include review of case studies from existing initiatives to provide open access to the scientific and scholarly literature, attempts to streamline and standardize the sharing of biological materials, and successful data- sharing projects, such as Sage Bionetworks and existing and proposed methods for sharing earth observation data.
  • To identify the legal, technical, and cultural requirements for a successful commons, with a particular focus on scientific data. The key themes will be the respective roles of standardization and interoperability at the legal and technical levels necessary for resources to be shared in a commons, whether those resources are literature, data, physical inputs, or others.