Sunday, October 9, 2016

DNA In The Copyright Office

In an article entitled, "Are Engineered Genetic Sequences Copyrightable?: The U.S. Copyright Office Addresses a Matter of First Impression", Chris Holman (who led the effort and was the prime mover of the article), Claes Gustafsson (whose impressive biotechnology company, DNA2.0, designed the DNA sequence submitted to the Copyright Office for registration), and I describe how the United States Copyright Office handled an attempt to register copyright in a synthetic DNA sequence.  Here is the abstract:
In spite of the compelling logic that would support extending copyright to engineered DNA sequences, copyright protection for genetic code has not been legally recognized in the US, or as far as we know anywhere. The Copyright Act is silent on the point, the courts do not appear to have ever addressed the question, and the Copyright Office has taken the position that an engineered genetic sequence is not copyrightable subject matter. In an attempt to advance the conversation, we submitted an engineered DNA sequence to the Copyright Office for registration, and then appealed the Office’s decision refusing to register engineered genetic sequences. This article reports the outcome of our experiment, and provides as supplementary material the actual letter we submitted to the Copyright Office appealing its initial decision not to register genetic sequences (the “Appeal”), along with the Copyright Office’s letter denying our appeal (the “Denial), which provides a detailed explanation of the Office’s position regarding the copyrightability of engineered DNA. The bulk of the article is devoted to refuting the legal and policy justifications set forth by the Office in its Denial.
Thank you very much to Chris and Claes for including me in this fascinating effort to probe the limits of copyrightable subject matter.  This legal adventure will continue.