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No evidence behind copyright exception plans, say publishers

The Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers has said the government’s plan to create an exception for researchers to use text and data mining under UK copyright law is not backed by evidence.

The comment was made in written evidence to the House of Commons Business, Innovation, and Skills Committee, which is investigating the government’s plans to implement the recommendations in the Hargreaves review on intellectual property, published on 18 May.

The ALPSP said that it was “perplexed” about the proposal for a text and data mining exception since there was “no evidence” that there was a need for it.

Text and data mining, currently prohibited by copyright law, involve copying media to run association-seeking software. The technique makes it possible for researchers to find trends and patterns across large numbers of documents that are impossible to track manually. This would be particularly useful in the biomedical sciences.

In its submission to the inquiry, the ALPSP pointed to a “recent study” which found that more than 90 per cent of publishers who received requests for data mining were “happy to oblige”. Given the small number and infrequent nature of requests, it said, the majority are handled on a case-by-case basis.

Besides, it said, text and data mining was relatively new and it was difficult to evaluate the exact impact it would have on the academic publishing market. There was, however, a risk that an exception for it could have a negative effect on UK economic growth.

The Confederation of British Industry raised similar concerns about the exception in its submission:

“We are concerned about some specific measures in the Hargreaves proposal for copyright exceptions for both data mining and future proofing. Many of our members have experience of adapting their own copyright policies to take account of new digital technologies with great success. We are pleased that the Government has announced its intention to consult widely with industry on this, as this will ascertain whether new copyright exceptions are in fact needed or whether alternative solutions such as licensing can be found,” reads its submission.

Several others organisations have backed the plans, including Research Councils UK, the Joint Information Systems Committee and Research Libraries UK.

JISC said it supported an exception for data mining, which it said provided UK innovation, education and research with “unprecedented opportunities to compete internationally.

“Researchers are frustrated and hampered by the limited ways in which they can access and use data and information. This is because the complex and often ambiguous IPR issues associated with both the original text and data required for data/ text mining, as well as the terms of agreements with publishers can restrict this either contractually and/or by supplying the text in formats such as PDF which negate the opportunity to text and/or data mine.

“As a result, as Professor Hargreaves has stated, ‘Text mining is one current example of a new technology which copyright should not inhibit, but does,’” reads its submission.

The government accepted all recommendations in the Hargreaves review on 3 August. It has said it will put forward a proposal to “widen the exception for non-commercial research, which should also cover both text- and data-mining”. However, the exception would have to be an interim arrangement under existing EU law.

Similarly, RCUK said it “strongly supports” the recommendation to extend the current exemption … with the potential to lead to new discoveries in medicine and other areas of research”.

RLUK shared this view, and warned of the consequences of failing to do so:

“Without a clear exception for text and data mining there is a danger that vendors will use the copyright regime to create new monopolies-only allowing researchers to mine content using tools supplied by that content provider. Copyright legislation should not be used to create new service-provision monopolies,” reads the RLUK submission.