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Research bodies seek changes to EU copyright proposals

Five key European research organisations have called on legislators to modify current European Union copyright reform proposals, including broadening exceptions from copyright on text and data mining, to facilitate research and innovation in a digital environment – or risk impeding progress in one of the most dynamic parts of the economy.

In a statement released on Tuesday, the Conference of European Schools for Advanced Engineering Education and Research or CESAER, the European University Association or EUA, the League of European Research Universities or LERU, the Association of European Research Libraries or LIBER, and Science Europe – which together represent hundreds of universities, libraries, funders and research performing organisations – said amendments in five main areas are critical if Europe wants to be at the forefront of a prosperous and growing digital society, the vision set out by the European Commission in its strategy for a Digital Single Market.

“If this proposal for a directive is not amended in a way that proactively addresses the challenges of facilitating research and innovation in an international and digital environment, it runs the risk of impeding progress in one of the most dynamic parts of the economy,” the statement said. “In its current form, the proposal could be viewed as backward looking and is not compatible with the vision of the Digital Single Market."

The areas singled out for change are those that directly affect the research and education sector. Key among the request modifications are those related to text and data mining or TDM – the process by which one can derive information from machine-readable material. It is a necessary tool for researchers dealing with a vast amount of data and publications, and allows for accelerated knowledge creation, competitiveness and growth.

The statement says the organisations strongly support the principle that “the right to read is the right to mine”.

The proposed directive only gives a mandatory TDM exception to research organisations doing scientific research. The five organisations say this must be redrafted so that any individual or organisation with legal access to content can also legally use digital technologies to mine that content.

Furthermore, the directive must clarify that technical measures may not be used to prevent beneficiaries from exercising their rights under an exception, or to impose unreasonable limitations on how TDM is performed.

“Providing innovators, educators, students and researchers with more legal certainty on the rights and duties linked to the use of materials is a seminal step forward for universities,” explains David Drewry, EUA vice-president and chair of the Research Policy Working Group. “However, we need to foster collaboration among citizens, researchers outside academia and fledgling commercial organisations, like spin-offs and start-ups, thus the exception for TDM has to be broadened.”

Modifications are also needed in relation to proposed legislation governing the supply of documents and use of materials for cross-border teaching and research, ancillary copyright, and transparency obligation, the statement said. Without these modifications, cross-border research activities and the deployment of new technologies for research and innovation will be impeded by legal uncertainty, the organisations said.

“We urge European legislators to remove the remaining barriers in the current proposal for copyright in the Digital Single Market,” said Jean-Pierre Finance, chair of EUA Science 2.0/Open Science Expert Group and former EUA council member. “These barriers risk putting Europe’s most advanced research and innovation practices at a disadvantage in the global competition for new knowledge.”

Removing them will give Europe’s research and innovation communities the framework they need to ensure that the most advanced research and innovation practices can be applied for the benefit of society, now and for the future, the EUA said.

The joint statement said that since the activities of teaching and research intertwine inseparably at most universities and research organisations, the natural step is to propose a copyright exception for the purposes of teaching and research.

It also warned against the granting of ancillary copyright that puts linking to content under copyright protection. It said any extension of Europe’s copyright frameworks to include ancillary copyright would damage European research organisations and curtail academic freedom, especially if such curtailment were extended to cover scholarly journals and research publications, as some publishers have requested.

This would prevent academics and universities from freely linking and using the world of information on the internet, placing publishers in control of the information environment and would “do untold damage to the ability of researchers to share their findings and reference the world of scholarship in their published works”. For this reason, the extension of the rights of publishers as outlined in article 11 of the proposed directive should clearly exclude ancillary copyright, the joint statement said.

“Our vision is for a Europe positioned as a global leader in data-driven innovation and research, and as an exemplar in terms of citizen engagement in science and the translation of public investment in research into real societal impact,” the joint statement said.

“Allowing European researchers and innovators to realise the full potential of knowledge and information is not at odds with protecting intellectual and creative contributions. Our considered proposals are made with the same duty and care for the protection of knowledge that we, as research institutions, have always shown.

“A healthy research and innovation ecosystem is one in which the creation of new knowledge through excellent science, and the utilisation of knowledge by society, are in constant interaction. Such an ecosystem depends on safeguarding the capacity of innovative branches of society to access information and absorb new knowledge,” the statement said.

Susan Reilly, executive director of LIBER Europe, said of the five organisations’ proposals: “Combined, we are the voice of thousands of researchers, educators, innovators, libraries and scholarly institutions. These are the people who create knowledge, look after it, keep it safe, build upon it, and help others take it forward. Our proposals are therefore with full appreciation of the need to safeguard those who create input as well as those who further its worth – indeed we represent both.”

Qualified political backing

The research organisations’ views received some qualified political backing last week when the European People’s Party or EPP group in the European Parliament – which hosted a cross-party hearing on the modernisation of copyright in the European Parliament on Wednesday, at which researchers, scholars and technology enterprises such as Google, YouTube and Mozilla presented their views – said in a position paper that an exception to the copyright law might be viable if strictly limited to research and educational purposes, linked to an educational establishment or research institution recognised by the competent authorities or within the scope of an educational programme.

The EPP group also recognises that “innovation based on research requires access to a growing amount of scientific content, where the use of text and data mining techniques can be necessary” and that “content mining techniques contribute to breakthroughs in research”.

However, the EPP group advocates for access to enabled automated analytical technologies for text and data mining of lawfully-acquired content under market-established licensing terms, arguing that the demand doesn’t currently justify an exception. “Stakeholders should collaborate to create and improve user-friendly platforms to facilitate the access to text and data mining licences and material,” the group’s position paper says.

Related Links
EU to remove copyright obstacle to data mining
Top universities dismayed over ‘weak’ copyright reform
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