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Google Accused of Bio-piracy 248

Simon Phillips writes "ZDNet is reporting that Google has been accused of being the 'biggest threat to genetic privacy' this year for its plan to create a searchable database of genetic information. From the article: 'Google was presented with an award as part of the Captain Hook Awards for Biopiracy in Curitiba, Brazil, this week. The organisers allege that Google's collaboration with genomic research institute J. Craig Venter to create a searchable online database of all the genes on the planet is a clear example of biopiracy.'"
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Google Accused of Bio-piracy

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  • Stupid. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tpgp ( 48001 ) on Thursday March 30, 2006 @10:58AM (#15025962) Homepage
    From the about the award [captainhookawards.org] pages:
    Biopiracy refers to the monopolization of genetic resources such as seeds and genes taken from the peoples or farming communities that have nurtured those resources. It also refers to the theft of traditional knowledge from those cultures.
    And the page explaining why Google was nominated. [captainhookawards.org]

    Nonetheless a recent internal video released from the Googleplex shows that the company are still very actively pursuing the goal of putting genomic information online for free.
    So. Google is monopolizing genetic resources by putting genetic information online for free?

    There are much better things to go after google for if you don't like them (*cough*censorhip*in*China*France*Germany*US*Unwar rented*Patents*cough) and far better companies to go after for biopiracy (What a stupid term).

    The monopolization of genetic information is a serious issue - people are trying to do stupid things - like attempting to apply copy protection measures (both physical and legal) to life. Life attempts to copy itself & tradional copyright / patent laws should not apply.

    Unfortunately, these awards look like shameless self-promotion rather then a serious attempt to tackle the problem.
  • Bio-piracy? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Uber Banker ( 655221 ) * on Thursday March 30, 2006 @10:59AM (#15025970)
    I can understand the meaning of pirate as in someone who sails the seas and acts in piracy - stealing others' belongs by force.

    I recognise the notion of piracy as in copying material which has been copyrighted, conducted by a 'pirate'. But I prefer the term copyright infringement.

    But what the heck is 'Bio-piracy'? Because privacy and piracy sound vaguely familiar isn't reason enough, IMHO. Naming the awards 'the Captain Hook awards' seems even more facetious.

    From TFA, "Google, in cooperation with Craig Venter, are developing plans to make all of our genomes Googlable to facilitate the brave new world of private genetically-tailored medicines" does not equal piracy, IMHO.

    And to tackle their argument, they have not outlined why genetically tailored medicines are bad, not why holding them in private hands is wrong. And private means exactly what? The copyright to GNU/Linux is held in private hands. And Google giving public access to work done by the human genome sequence project seems a lot better than letting all research in the hands of a very small amount of drug companies, those that are most interested in profiting from keeping information 'secret'.
  • I don't get it (Score:4, Insightful)

    by the_humeister ( 922869 ) on Thursday March 30, 2006 @11:00AM (#15025980)
    The information is being put out for "free." (advertiser supported). But wouldn't this actually be a boon for research scientists? Better searches than BLAST maybe?
  • by gEvil (beta) ( 945888 ) on Thursday March 30, 2006 @11:01AM (#15025984)
    Correct me if I'm wrong, but if you are someone with the resources to even do anything with this type of information, you will most likely be able to obtain it through sources other than Google.
  • by schon ( 31600 ) on Thursday March 30, 2006 @11:02AM (#15025989)
    Google is monopolizing genetic resources by putting genetic information online for free?

    Sounds to me like these guys are a bunch of kooks who are attacking any large company who uses the words "genetic" and "database" in the same sentence.

    Google is one of the biggest, so they automatically attack.
  • Wait a minute (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Conspiracy_Of_Doves ( 236787 ) on Thursday March 30, 2006 @11:04AM (#15026006)
    Are these guys worried about genes of individual people being searched, or privately owned, corperate made|discovered genes?

    If it is the latter, I don't see a problem.
  • I don't understand (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wetfeetl33t ( 935949 ) on Thursday March 30, 2006 @11:05AM (#15026009)
    Why is it that when a company makes information private, they are considered greedy and secretive, but when a company makes information freely accessible over the internet, they are considered pirates?
  • Riiiight, so... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AEther141 ( 585834 ) on Thursday March 30, 2006 @11:08AM (#15026037)
    Making data publicly available at no charge is evil and advancing the privatisation of genetic data. That makes sense. Torvalds, Cox and Stallman must be evil for all that Free software. The Gutenberg Project must be pure evil for making all that literature publicly available - who knows what Evil Corporations(TM) might do with that information? Seems to me that this 'bio-piracy' malarkey is a thinly veiled primitivist agenda.
  • by fshalor ( 133678 ) <fshalor.comcast@net> on Thursday March 30, 2006 @11:09AM (#15026038) Homepage Journal

    This made me spit out my coffee... Arrrrg!

    There's a balance between communication and proliferation. There really is.

    If a person is being tested for a degree on material, they shouldn't have access to the answers. But if a person is working in the field, they *should*. And if a person is curious, they probably should too.

    This is just taking it too far. There may be justifiable reasons why evil corperation X in country Z shouldn't have access to information Gamma, but what real difference will it make if they can google for it. There's a much greater chance of them screwing something up if they're evil than getting something right.

    Weight that against the 1000's of corperations/individuals/research groups also looking at information Gamma and doing something promising, and google is, on average, doing a good service.

    I have to google for facts that make our research institute run literally daily. Usually its simple stuff like " what the hell is bentonite and how much can we put in this beaker without breaking something." or "what the heck is this photoflo stuff. It works great for this demonstration experiment, but we can't find the bottle..." a short google later, and we have a home brew wetting agent made, in the tank, and making the flow over a glass edge laminar just as we wanted.

    Biopiracy? Please: Communication is a *vital* part of the scientific method. Shure, 1/1000 it might bite someone in the ass. But without modern communication pathways, we wouldn't have all these cool toys or long lives in which to buy more toys.
  • by radiumhahn ( 631215 ) on Thursday March 30, 2006 @11:13AM (#15026067)
    There are billions of years of prior art. And the argument that know one would research them otherwise is crap to... First to market in the drug world is the driving force. Even if... does that mean people can patent translated segments of ancient languages if they read them first? These people should cram grapes in their noses!
  • by Drachasor ( 723880 ) on Thursday March 30, 2006 @11:16AM (#15026085)
    Huh...and I thought patenting genes (including ones the appear in MY body) was the real example of biopiracy.

    What Google is planning certainly isn't going to stifle innovation like gene patents will--for if lack of patents ever harmed research governments can and would supply funds for researchers.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 30, 2006 @11:30AM (#15026182)
    If the natives feel like they are exploited, why don't they just shut up. There's no reason to tell anything to the eVil scientists.

    Your post is the same nonsense that is repeated all over the place, one man getting rich makes all the other poorer. Learn some basic economics and be enlightened how our well-being benefits others.

    "We can't cure your Alzheimer because native people in Venezuela feel bad about their precious plants being studied"

    Fuck the indians, they hacked my webserver and left there some apache-tribe related page...
  • Re:Stupid. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by maxwell demon ( 590494 ) on Thursday March 30, 2006 @11:51AM (#15026367) Journal
    Note the second sentence you quoted: "It also refers to the theft of traditional knowledge from those cultures."

    "Theft of knowledge" is, of course, a term which refers to "intellectual property", except that here obvioulsy a "collective IP" held by a culture is assumed. Google is obviously accused for violating this second part.

    But independent of what one may think about the concepts of IP in general, and of the concept of IP held by a culture in particular, there's a nice contradiction in the very definition:

    The first sentence states that monopolization of that knowledge is bad. The second one states that not granting a monopoly to those cultures is bad.

    In short, the term "biopiracy" is ill-defined.
  • by yankpop ( 931224 ) on Thursday March 30, 2006 @12:15PM (#15026575)

    You raise 5 important points, none of which have anything at all to do with the issue at hand.

    The Captain Hook people obviously have no understanding of biopiracy. By making genetic information freely available Google would take away the ability of the corporations gathering up the info to monopolize it for their own devious ends. On the other hand, any genetic info published in a peer-reviewed journal gets archived in a publicly accessible database like Genebank already, so Google isn't even doing anything that's qualitatively different.

    Either Google is helping reduce real biopiracy, or is simply making existing public databases easier to search. In no way is this biopiracy, and there's no complex ethical or legal problem with it. Just an ignorant mob looking for an easy victim.


  • by fshalor ( 133678 ) <fshalor.comcast@net> on Thursday March 30, 2006 @12:18PM (#15026599) Homepage Journal
    This was a good response, thought you shouldn't have posted as AC. And the mod shouldn't have modded ya down.

    Why do /.'eans persist in attacking comments which aren't fully explained. I seem to be plauged with it.

    There is a *lot* of information you can get from reading any single article, website, response, etc. But any engineer worth his/her degree would *never* rely on one source. Even stuff you see in peer reviewed articles can be wrong. (I've seen it!)

    However, there is something to be learned even from the wrong article. Sure, I didn't go into this in my comment. I'm sorry I assumed that my point would come across without an explanation.

    An example:

    Looking up laser howtos the other day for revitalizing our laser lab. Was googleing for hints and docs about a few Spectra Physics argon ion lasers. (Series 2000 and a Stabilitte 2011). One of the first startup procedures I found for the 2000 was from a college graduate student physics lab. ... I couldn't believe they had the students cutting the power on before they had the cooling water flowing. (Even though it states clearly in the manual that the water should be checked before the power is turned on.)

    I had to ignore the startup (and shut down too, since that was even worse.) but the howto had one of the clearest tuning procedures I've seen for getting a dummy to safely align the laser.

    Should I condem google for providing me with a howto that could result in an incident if there was a water leak? No. I could only blame myself for being stupid.
  • by mindwar23 ( 964732 ) on Thursday March 30, 2006 @12:38PM (#15026785) Journal
    I think they definitely attacked Google on this for publicity purposes, after all we wouldn't be discussing "biopiracy" if Google hadn't won. But if you review their list, most of their claims of biopiracy seem pretty valid. They're referring to companies and individuals commiting legal acts of piracy: taking genetic material, in some cases cultivated for thousands of years by indigenous peoples, and claiming it for their own. It turns the piracy model of copyright infringement on its head and accuses the rights-owners of stealing from the users. Is it it publicity stunt? Yes. Does Google belong on this list? Maybe not. But it got me interested in a dangerous trend...
  • Re:Stupid. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Theatetus ( 521747 ) on Thursday March 30, 2006 @12:54PM (#15026953) Journal
    The first sentence states that monopolization of that knowledge is bad. The second one states that not granting a monopoly to those cultures is bad.

    I didn't read that as what he was saying. It looked more like he was attacking Monsanto, ADM, et al for going to a country like Mexico, taking samples of the corn people have been planting there for centuries, patenting those seeds, and then suing the farmers for doing what they have been doing for hundreds of years to force them to buy GM seeds that they can't replant. He's not saying the Mexican farmers should be the only ones using those seeds. He's saying agritech companies shouldn't be able to sue them for continuing to use those seeds just because the company got an absurd patent on centuries-old technology.

    Think Microsoft, RIAA, SCO, MPAA, etc. are evil? What happens to our bits is nothing compared to what's happening to our food... [thefutureoffood.com]

  • by CheshireCatCO ( 185193 ) on Thursday March 30, 2006 @01:05PM (#15027064) Homepage
    Why use the word "steal" here, though? Are these organisms being smuggled out of the country, or at they being legitimately and legally removed for study? If the latter, anyone accusing them of theft (or piracy) is just rabble-rousing. There may be some legitimate cause for concern regarding local economies, here, but neither piracy nor theft is occurring. And tarring Google with this is doubly asinine.
  • Re:Stupid. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by shawb ( 16347 ) on Thursday March 30, 2006 @01:20PM (#15027203)
    If Google is putting this information online for all to use in research, how is that a bad thing?

    It's a bad thing... let me rephrase that... It's a process which has potentially negative consequences to some, because the people who are using these cures in a traditional manner do not have access to a computer with internet access. They do not have access to the resources of a genetics lab. They simply do not have the ability to utilize this information. Some company researching the topic may use information they gathered from google to patent a compound, and then later may force the natives using the compound (as they extract it from the plant) to cease and decist, the pharmcorps cadre of lawyers and jackbooted thugs being more influential than that of the natives.

    This scenario may seem like a bit of hyperbole, but it has happened before (well, without the searching google part. The pharmcorps generally asked native shamans about cures, extracted the active compounds and learned to synthsize them, then took action against the shamans who showed them the cure for "violating the IP of the company." And google could in deed make it easier for companies to look for people violating their IP: simply do a search on the reverse transcriptase encoded DNA sequence of every single chemical you have a patent on. That search could tell you what organism makes said compound. Find someone using that compound from that natural source rather than your factories, then BLAMMO... patent suit.

    Now, while "biopiracy" (man, that word just annoys me, sorry.) is indeed an evil (or at least supremely greedy) act, I don't think it's fair to equate Google to them. Even if their product could be used in part of the process. At that point why not link Microsoft, because the labs are probably running Windows on the machines the researchers searched from? What about the power company for supplying the electricity to power the machines that the search was made with? No, the Google product was created with the intent of helping people, not stifling third world peoples.

Did you hear that two rabbits escaped from the zoo and so far they have only recaptured 116 of them?