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Study suggests tweaking how EU copyright law affects research


Uncertainties over scope of law should be clarified to promote reuse of results, report recommends

The EU, national authorities and research organisations should all act to improve how the distribution of results from European research is affected by copyright law, a study for the European Commission has suggested.

The study by Christina Angelopoulos, an associate professor of intellectual property law at the University of Cambridge in the UK, was carried out in the context of what its author describes as “the dysfunctions that characterise the current scientific publishing business”, in which authors of research papers often transfer copyright to publishers.

“The result is the appropriation of copyright in scientific publications by private entities, something particularly problematic for publicly funded research,” Angelopoulos says in the report, published by the Commission on 1 August.

Suggestions for various actors

To help tackle the problem, Angelopoulos suggests that research funders need to carefully design their grant conditions and ensure that they clearly communicate those conditions to researchers. This should ensure that grantees are required to make their papers openly available for reuse, and that they act on that requirement, she says.

Researchers’ employers, such as universities, could consider claiming copyright over their researchers’ papers, Angelopoulous acknowledges, but warns that this “would be hard to reconcile with academic freedom”, and that institutions should tread carefully.

For the EU and national authorities, Angelopoulous considered a variety of legislative options. These included harmonising copyright law among EU member states and tweaking EU-wide rules.

Existing EU copyright law allows certain uses of copyrighted material by third parties, in the form of exceptions and limitations, she explains. But she adds that “uncertainty surrounds the scope of the scientific research provision” and that more clarity would be welcome.

Legislators could weigh in on whether employers should have copyright over research papers, Angelopoulous suggests, but adds that this is subject to the same concerns about academic freedom as for employers themselves.