Copyright: making EU rules work for science, research and innovation

Source: A. (Andrus) Ansip i, published on Friday, September 30 2016.

Data has become a powerful force in our lives. It can make a factory's production line more efficient; it can improve the quality of healthcare. It can create new ways to learn in schools and help to make cars safer.

The data economy is huge and expanding quickly. Some experts estimate that this sector is growing at about 40% a year.

But if data cannot move freely, its growth potential will be limited. Data has to be able to move without constraints, across national borders and in a single data space. This is not what Europe has today.

Instead, we have legal uncertainty and barriers that limit cross-border data flows.

We have already addressed some of these issues: the EU's recent data protection reform and update of rules for re-using public sector information, for example.

Data also featured prominently in the Commission's new approach to online platforms and industry and cloud computing initiatives, all published in April 2016. Later this year, it will feature in the initiative to tackle excessive data localisation rules.

Vast amounts of data are published every year in Europe. If that data is not made properly available, then it cannot flow freely.

This is a particular problem faced by scientists and researchers. They need access to large volumes of data to mine and analyse as a way to develop new knowledge and insights. This is often done by discovering correlations between materials produced in different scientific fields.

Almost all scientific journals are already available online, and around 2.5 million scientific articles are published every year.

Text and data mining, or TDM, is an emerging and important tool. But it is developing only slowly, mainly due to legal uncertainty caused by today's copyright rules.

Since TDM can involve reproducing works or extracting content from a database, this may require authorisation from rights holders.

However, researchers often do not know their legal position for whether - and under which conditions - they can carry out TDM on content to which they already have lawful access, like subscriptions to scientific publications.

For example, a national research centre that subscribes to publishers for access to large collections of scientific journals may not be able to carry out TDM on this content - or may face different licence conditions of different publishers to do so.

Cooperation with research centres in other countries can also be difficult, because of different rules that apply to TDM in different EU countries.

TDM can be expensive. Before a TDM exception was applied in the UK, University College London indicated that the costs to check compliance of its TDM activities with the different applicable licences could run to up to £500,000 per year.

Globally, EU countries are not doing too badly in awareness and analysis of this promising set of technologies. But in general, awareness and use of TDM techniques remains fairly low, with limited impact on published research.

To sum up: Europe could be doing much more in this area. This is why our copyright reform proposes a mandatory exception to the rules.

It would require all EU countries to allow research organisations acting in the public interest - such as universities and research institutes - to carry out TDM of copyright-protected content to which they have lawful access, without any prior authorisation. This would not apply to commercial companies.

Our new targeted TDM rules represent a global first, so I am aware that this issue is far from straightforward.

Its importance should not be underestimated. It is highly charged politically and so we need to proceed carefully.

But at the same time, we cannot avoid our responsibility to create the right conditions for innovation and to promote research and development in the EU.

In turn, this will stimulate growth.

We also cannot afford more splintering of Europe's single market, especially given that scientific research is collaborative and borderless.

But that is what would happen if EU countries establish their own national exceptions for TDM that could be based on different local conditions.

As technology improves and spreads, researchers acquire new skills and digital research sources increase, it is clear that TDM will become a more important research tool in the future.

Europe needs to be at the forefront of this exciting and important new area, and make our copyright rules work for science, research and innovation.

Another blog soon.