Is That Fair Use?

Scientists at the European Bioinformatics Institute announced quite a bio-digital data mashup this week in the journal Nature. They encoded 739 kilobytes of computer data into strands of synthetic DNA and were able to read that data back out with 100% fidelity. It does seem like a cumbersome storage medium, but when treated right, DNA can be pretty stable and compact. With molecular biotech getting faster and cheaper, the authors argue that the method could be practical for archival of very large amounts of data within the decade.

There is one little thing they overlooked, and I hope it won’t be their undoing. One of the pieces of computer data they encoded was a 26-second recording of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream Speech.” The King Estate has been notoriously protective of this cultural legacy, and has legally asserted that it is not part of the public domain. Let’s hope there is no lawsuit pending (also via On The Media).


~ by nucamb on January 29, 2013.

2 Responses to “Is That Fair Use?”

  1. I arrived via your comment on Wired, as I was curious what constituted “not fair use” for encoding digital data in DNA. Now I understand… sigh.

    This could have been avoided if the scientists used a voice recording of their own. The demonstration did not require Martin Luther King’s voice to be effective! This my perspective: Showmanship causes problems of its own. The accomplishment was significant in its own right. Why needlessly complicate matters?

    • I think my writing skills were not up to the task of conveying my intended tone (more tongue-in-cheek). I don’t actually think there will be any legal consequences for the scientists (since the copy is not being distributed and can’t easily be read by others), but I did want to point out their interesting research as well as the fascinating story from On The Media.

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