The semantic web is going to become an important tool for scientists who need to accurately share data given context through structured relationships. The structure that defines contextual relationships on the semantic web is known as an ontology; which is a hierarchical organization of a knowledge domain that contains entities and their relations. This paper seeks to answer whether semantic web ontologies are protectable by copyright, and regardless of the outcome, what the best practices are for the scientific community. The best practices for the scientific community should include the adoption of a machine readable ontology license which disclaims copyright protection for publication of public scientific data to assure automation of the integration of ontologies and to maximize easy access to public science materials that can be queried. Sharing and information is essential for scientists and failure to address the possibility of ontologies as a possible constraint to public data access could result in data fragmentation and lost scientific opportunities. The ability of the semantic web to annotate and reuse data relies on the social structure of science supporting data sharing as a norm and as an extension of this norm, open licensing of ontologies should be embraced.
Andrew Clearwater, The New Ontologies: The Effect of Copyright Protection on Public Scientific Data Sharing Using Semantic Web Ontologies, 10 J. Marshall Rev. Intell. Prop. L. 181 (2010)