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New ISCB Software-Access Policy Encourages Sharing, Leaves Licensing Options Open

TORONTO — The International Society of Computational Biology has updated its software-sharing policy in an effort to balance the interests of its diverse membership with the need for scientists to gain access to new tools.
 
ISCB officials announced the new recommendations here during ISCB’s annual Intelligent Systems for Molecular Biology conference. The policy is a revision of a statement that ISCB released in 2002 that drew criticism because it was issued without soliciting feedback from the broader bioinformatics community.
 
The updated statement, which grew out of panel discussions and an open comment period on ISCB’s blog, notes that the availability of bioinformatics software is “extremely important” to the field, and if “a researcher's software is necessary to understand, reproduce and build on scientific results, then the software should be made available.”
 
The policy calls for both grantors and publishers to require statements of software availability from researchers and recommends that those statements “be specific about cost, source code availability, redistribution rights (including for derived works), user support, and any discrimination among user types.”
 
ISCB said in the statement that “it is preferable to make source code available” in most cases, and that developers should release executable versions of their software for academic users.
 
However, the policy does not offer any specific software-licensing recommendations. While it notes that “open source licenses are one effective way to share software,” it adds that “no single licensing or distribution model” is appropriate for all research projects.
 
“We cannot mandate making source code available because that would dissolve the business models of many of our members, so finding this policy was very tricky,” Reinhard Schneider, vice president of the ISCB, told GenomeWeb Daily News sister publication BioInform. He noted that while many academic software developers can easily post algorithms and other tools and data on the web, software vendors or drug developers cannot, in most cases, adhere to that practice.
 
Schneider is currently a team leader at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory’s Structural and Computational Biology Unit in Heidelberg, Germany, and was previously a co-founder of Lion Bioscience, so he has experienced this issue from both the academic and commercial perspective.
 
“We are very glad to have found a path to this policy,” he said.  

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