European reform of copyright for Content Mining

Today the European Commission announced their action plan for copyright reform within the Digital Single Market strategy. There’s been a lot of whooping by the reforming twitterati, but I am less overjoyed. I’ll give it 1 cheer out of 3. Chris Hartgerink – a content-miner and statistician – has blogged a good overview here. There are also blogs from League of European Research Universities (LERU) and Copyright for Creativity. (this last one has a lot of useful yes/maybe/no evaluation ).

I and others like Chris want to mine the information, which is only available in rich universities who subscribe to expensive journals. In the Netherlands Chris tried to do this but the publisher Elsevier told the University to tell Chris to stop doing his research and the University told him to stop. This is, presumably,  because  his university has signed a restrictive contract with Elsevier giving up their right to do it.  So we have the blatant injustice that a publisher, to which the University pays huge amounts of money, effectively controls mining-based research

In the UK we don’t have this problem because in 2014 the government amended the law (“Hargreaves exception”) to allow mining for non-commercial research purposes. And added a clause that this right could not be overriden by contractual restrictions. So I can mine the literature and I and colleagues are tooling up to do so.

Tthis exception has been seen as focus for European reform. Julia Reda, MEP, who drafted an excellent proposal for the Parliament earlier this year, wanted to go further and allow commercial mining (which makes sense if you want to grow an information-based scientific industrial base). But there has been huge – really huge – opposition from the “content owners” and every new draft gets watered down.

Today we have the EC’s response. It’s draft – so there will be more changes. There’s still a lot of “we should think about X” rather than “we are going to do X”, but it’s more positive than I expected.

  • On the plus side it argues for all types of activity, and uses “mandatory exception” which I think means that we can ignore contractual clauses that override it. It also argues for “legal certainty” which we absolutely need – I have no guarantee that what I am doing is absolutely legal (and no one can tell me)
  • On the minus side it restricts the use to “public interest research organisations”. No one  knows what these are, and that’s a terrible place to be. I think it means universities and national laboratories. It might include medical charities like CRUK – who knows. But even with a broad sweep it’s likely only to be 500,000 people, whereas we have > 20 million adults. So this would only apply to 2% of the population – the other 98% are disenfranchised. That’s unacceptable in any code. Pragmatically it could mean that these institutions had to manage and regulate the mining. I would have to apply to Cambridge – the process might be arcane, and might be seriously influenced by content-owners. Universities are ultra-risk averse and the simplest thing to do in case of doubt is to forbid it.

And there’s a non-legal aspect. I have yet to meet anyone else in UK who is using UK Hargreaves legislation to legitimate their mining. (There may be people doing it without telling the University but this isn’t because of the legislation  – it’s possible they don’t even know about it). And I’ve not heard of any University who has set up training courses. Meanwhile publishers are making it as hard as possible to mine by adding CAPTCHAs and other traps. So some questions for readers:

  • do you know of any UK university which has facilitated mining in the last year? (WITHOUT signing additional contracts)
  • do you know of anyone in UK who has been banned from research using mining?

The point is that even changing the EC law – and that won’t happen fast – still needs the Universities to help their researchers rather than acting as police for the publishers.


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the bear

I have another blog in real life...

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