There's been a lot of talk over the weekend about whether or not a musical work encoded as DNA would be protected under copyright; Does that mean that if I take a DNA strand and somehow derive music from that, the copyright that protects the musical composition somehow retroactively protects all other works derived from that DNA strand?
Let's think this through for a moment:
A musical work that was written via "traditional" techniques and then encoded in DNA (as it might be encoded using MIDI or MusicXML) would be protected under copyright because it already was before it was DNA-encoded.
In the same vein, a musical composition derived from a DNA strand (much in the same way space music is "derived" from the constellations) would be protected under copyright because, by definition, it is a "musical composition."
Either way, the DNA itself isn't the "work" being copyrighted.
This brings up a lot of interesting questions about who owns DNA and DNA-derived works, that's for sure! The situation isn't any less complicated than the DNA patenting issue.
Here's a Slashdot story on it, along with a piece from the NY Times.
Here's an excerpt from the NY Times piece:
The idea is that a DNA sequence, if encoded as music, might be copyrightable as a work of art. A researcher wanting to use that sequence could obtain it as a music file and decode it after purchasing a proprietary back-translation program.
Such a system would benefit the biotechnology companies, because their work would be protected — for up to 100 years in some cases. But Dr. Stemmer argued that it would also aid other researchers by making more DNA sequences available. With the current uncertainty about patents, some companies have refused to reveal sequences they have deciphered out of fear that they will lose the rights to them.
Dr. Stemmer said that intellectual property lawyers and other genomics companies are studying various ideas for protecting ownership of DNA sequences, although a spokeswoman for Maxygen said that Dr. Stemmer's digital music proposal was intended only to stimulate discussion in the scientific community and was not part of any company strategy. Still, Dr. Stemmer noted that warfare among genomics companies could happen. "When it does break out," he said, "things will polarize very quickly."
John Dunn, who wrote the Bio2Midi program four years ago (and who has written other molecules-to-music programs available through his company, Algorithmic Arts, in Fort Worth, Tex.), said he was inspired to create this kind of software after working with DNA researchers and finding that genetic data has some qualities, like thematic variation, that are similar to music.