Companies and universities appeal against ‘restrictive’ EU text and data mining law

12 Apr 2018 | News

Time for an urgent rethink on new copyright rules, say 23 research groups

Universities, libraries, funders and research bodies have made a fresh appeal to legislators in Brussels to include start-ups among the beneficiaries of an expected easing of rules governing text and data mining in Europe.

In a letter addressed to the European Commission president and other top officials, groups including the European University Association and the League of European Research Universities, which together represent thousands of researchers, say they, “Fail to comprehend why, although the Commission accepts the fact that artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning need vast amounts of data for training, it is currently pushing for a restrictive [text and data mining] exception within the Copyright Directive.”

The European Commission in 2016 proposed scrapping the default ban on computer scanning of tens of thousands of research papers, a move that would improve the situation for mining in Europe overall, but would not benefit everyone. While universities and research institutes operating “in the public interest” stand to gain in the new rules, start-ups, citizen scientists, freelance researchers, data journalists and advocacy groups are excluded.

In addition, the proposal also limits the scope of mining activity to “purposes of scientific research.”

As it stands, the proposal “will inevitably lead [to] the most promising European AI start-ups and companies relocating to the US or Japan” where mining is “broadly allowed and even encouraged”, the letter says.

Text and data mining is a technique that allows scientists to scour hundreds and thousands of articles in one go. The problem is that journal publishers in Europe, which own the copyright, tightly control the material researchers would like to mine.

Publishers broadly favour the Commission’s proposal, saying that any exemption should be limited to research organisations. Companies that want to mine material should continue to pay for a licence, they say. 

Several committees in the European Parliament are nudging the proposal into passage, in a marathon law-making period lasting almost two years. A final vote could come in June.

The conservative European People’s Party, the largest in the Parliament and the political home of the lead rapporteur on the copyright file, German Axel Voss, is not in favour of widening the scope beyond the Commission’s proposal, arguing this would interfere with “a well-functioning licensing market.”

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