Copyright Threatens Use of Standard and Seminal Medical Tests

When the New England Journal of Medicine is worried about the anti-intellectual use of copyright, we all ought to take notice.

In a December 29, 2011 article entitled “Copyright and Open Access at the Bedside“, NEJM authors John C. Newman, M.D., Ph.D., and Robin Feldman, J.D. detail the copyright regime ringed around the seminal Mini–Mental State Examination (MMSE) and the aggressive enforcment of that copyright against open source competitors such as the Sweet 16 — a 16-item assessment of thinking, learning, and memory developed by Harvard’s Tamara Fong.

The authors argue for a copyleft approach to medicine:

“A better solution is to apply the principle of “copyleft” from the open-source technology movement to encourage innovation and access while protecting authors’ rights. Copyleft is intellectual jujitsu that uses copyright protection to guarantee the right of anyone to use, modify, copy, and distribute a work, as long as it and any derivatives remain under the same license. The author retains the right to offer the work under a different license simultaneously — for example, giving a company specific license to commercialize the work without copyleft protections. Popular copyleft licenses include the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license and the GNU Free Documentation License.”