The Strange Case of Life Violating Copyright

Posted by on March 25th, 2011

As many of you may remember, last year J. Craig Venter and his team created the first synthetic life form by replacing the genetic code of the bacterium Mycoplasma capricolum with DNA that they created themselves. In order to create and identify thier own DNA, they composed it from two quotes. One quote was from Richard Feynman (and was actually misquoted), and the second quote was from James Joyce’s A Potrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

Not long after this announcement Venter received a cease and desist letter from the Joyce estate claiming violation of fair use. So now there is a situation where life was created using information that falls under copyright and is faced with a cease and desist letter. Does this mean that the life must be destroyed? The bacterium has already reproduced and is a viable life form.

“Which brings to mind the question…are we now nearing a point where copyright law can result in the retraction of a life form?”

It will be interesting to see where this case ends up.

[Forbes via Tor]

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