A project's responsibilities after it ends

What legal and ethical issues do public distributed computing projects create? What responsibilities do project owners have to their participants and vice versa?

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A project's responsibilities after it ends

Postby kpearson » Thu Apr 06, 2006 11:44 pm

Late last year, Lycos, the owner of the Grub Internet-indexing project, shut down the project with very little advance warning, and did not make the project results available to the public or to the project participants after the project ended. Other projects such as dcypher.net and Popular Power have also not made their results available after they shut down. By not making their results available, and by not using the results for further research or application, these projects effectively wasted all of the efforts and resources that volunteers contributed to the projects.

Of course the owners of a project have the right to shut down the project at any time, for any reason. And since in most cases the project participants are volunteers, the participants have no legal claim to the project's results. But by keeping private, or throwing away, the results of a project, the project owners harm public distributed computing. Volunteers are less likely to participate in future projects if they think the project results will not be used. They are less likely to trust the project owners if the owners begin other projects in the future. And no one can benefit from a project's results if they can't study them or use them.

What obligations do project owners have to their participants, or to the clients or organizations for which they are conducting research? Should they be expected or required to make all of the project results available to the participants or the clients after the project ends, or if it must be ended early? Should they be expected or required to hand over a project to someone else who is willing to host it and run it if they have to end it early? Lycos could have given the Grub project to an independent organization to run and to improve after Lycos decided not to support it. Should a project's volunteers just accept that the project owners have all of the rights to the project's results and can do whatever they want with the results? Should every new project be required to state on its website what it intends to do with the project results during and after the project?
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Postby Twin Tattoo » Fri Apr 07, 2006 10:05 am

These are issues that should be raised with funding organizations, such as NSF. The funding organizations hold all the cards and can call the tune. So the question might be how does one get these funding organizations see this as an issue?
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Re: A project's responsibilities after it ends

Postby Rakarin » Fri Apr 07, 2006 11:05 am

kpearson wrote:Should every new project be required to state on its website what it intends to do with the project results during and after the project?


Personally, I think this is a great idea, and I look for information like this when looking at projects.

One thing to consider is that a project may close if it inadvertently infringes on a patent or intellectual property. In that case, the people may not be able to release or use any information, and my be under a non-disclosure agreement about the situation. While I would like to know what happens to data when a project closes, sometimes that is just not possible. (Still, in that case, the admins could say, "We are closing for reasons we are legally bound to not discuss." That would at least be something.)

It is also possible that the methods were found to be faulty late into the project. This can happen, especially in a highly experimental area. If the methods are completely inaccurate and the data unsalvageable, the admins may simply decide to close a project quietly in order to salvage their own professional standing. It's not the best reaction, but it happens.

Further, some projects are very small, and run by only a few people. (SZTAKI and Orbit@Home come to mind.) If there is a personal crisis, the individual may have too much to deal with to care. Again, this is not good, but if a project I ran suddenly had an announcement, "Our only programmer's spouse/child just passed away. The project is halting indefinitely." I would be very forgiving. Still, we have the issue of communication here.

I don't know if any of this really clarifies the issue... Reasons for closing can vary greatly, and the situation should be kept in context.

It always seems to boil down to communication, at some level or another.
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Postby BarkerJr » Fri Apr 07, 2006 10:28 pm

Kirk, I believe you have some influence on these things. Not to abuse power too much, you might add a policy that you only list projects on this site that do display this information. I'm all for it.
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Postby Rakarin » Fri Apr 07, 2006 10:55 pm

BarkerJr wrote:Kirk, I believe you have some influence on these things. Not to abuse power too much, you might add a policy that you only list projects on this site that do display this information. I'm all for it.


I have to say I'm not.

That could exclude many projects, particularly many small projects that need help.

I think a better alternative is to have some small graphical marker to indicate "Ending/Closure Plan". (If you're going to do this, you might also want to add a marker for if a project is enduring/persistent, or has a planned target for end [M4, LHC@Home].) That way, people can have their own choice in who they patronize, and make more informed choices.
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Postby CAEman » Fri Dec 19, 2008 2:02 pm

I think, authors of 'serious' tasks did not make the project results available to the public or to the project participants after the project ended because they used finally Grid computing systems: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grid_computing; http://www.eu-egee.org; http://www.GRID-center.org/downloads/down_Home.asp. What will be more popular for home distributed computing systems now, see my topic: http://distributedcomputing.info/phpBB/viewtopic.php?t=1585.
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