When the University of Pennsylvania's Daniel Himmelstein sought to bring together publicly available data on associations between drugs, genes, and diseases, he found that obtaining legal permission to do so was tricky, Nature News reports.
Many of the researchers Himmelstein contacted as he put together his Hetionet resource didn't realize that he even had to seek permission to reproduce their work, Nature News adds. Most researchers gave their permission, though one group never responded, three groups responded but in a vague way that didn't address the legal issue, and another group's dataset's license forbade re-use.
This confusion, Himmelstein tells Nature News, underscores that many researchers don't realize making data publicly available doesn't mean it can be re-published. And that may become an issue as "[s]cience is becoming more and more dependent on reusing data," he says.
Jonathan Band, an intellectual property lawyer with Policy Bandwidth in Washington, DC, tells Nature News that Himmelstein — who unveiled Hetionet in July with those three datasets whose re-use status was unclear — likely won't face any legal challenges. But, Himmelstein says he's concerned that the confusion and uncertainty will prevent others from re-using data and slow down the speed of science.