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Why are we copyrighting science?

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: (Published 16 September 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c4738
  1. Varuni de Silva, senior lecturer in psychiatry, Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo, Colombo, Sri Lanka,
  2. Raveen Hanwella, senior lecturer in psychiatry, Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo
  1. Correspondence to: V de Silva varunidesilva2{at}

    Looking for a rating scale to screen for depression, we realised that many commonly used scales were under copyright and that researchers have to pay for their use.

    Rating scales are an integral part of research in psychiatry. Most psychiatry diagnoses do not have external validating criteria, so scales help in structured gathering of information and in use of standard criteria for diagnosis. Scales are also used to assess patients’ levels of functioning, quality of life, satisfaction with services, and burden on carers. Of the many hundred scales developed for use in medicine only a few gain wide acceptance among researchers. Scales used in many specialties, such as the general health questionnaire and the mini-mental state examination, have been copyrighted. Some copyrighted scales are first published in journals and are available free to researchers. However, once a rating scale is accepted by the scientific community an updated version is copyrighted, a process similar to “evergreening” of drugs whereby patent periods are extended by licensing them for different indications. …

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