Innovators, Public Interest Groups & Open Access Supporters Pull Out Of Talks On EU Copyright In Protest
from the squandered-opportunities dept
Back in February we reported on a worrying attempt by the European Commission to reframe the discussion about modernizing copyright in Europe purely in terms of licensing, reflected in the name of the initiative, "Licences for Europe". Although originally a series of discussions were promised to "explore the potential and limits of innovative licensing and technological solutions in making EU copyright law and practice fit for the digital age," in practice moderators shut down discussions of things like exceptions or even Creative Commons licensing. As far as the Commission was concerned, it seemed the answer to updating copyright for the modern age was just old-style licensing and nothing else.
Those events took place in one of the four "discussion" groups, covering user-generated content (although there weren't many representatives of the users present -- 75% of the participants turned out to be from the copyright industry.) However, it seems that things are equally dire in the group supposedly coming up with solutions for text and data mining (TDM), a technique whereby new information is gleaned by analyzing and comparing large quantities of pre-existing digital texts. Again, the problem was the licensing straitjacket that the Commission insisted on imposing on the discussions.
This inflexibility led to a group of eminent signatories drawn from Nobel prize winners, technology SMEs, research councils, university associations, learned academies, publishers, libraries and law academics from across Europe to send a letter to the European Commission outlining some of the key problems with that approach (pdf). Among other things, it pointed out:
Organisations in the modern world access the internet, or buy and subscribe to digital content in order for humans and computers to read and develop new ideas from what they have lawfully read. We do not accept that the right for computers to read, extract facts and formulate new ideas is a separate right to the right of humans to freely perform the exact same activities.
This is a crucial point: by insisting on licensing as the only solution to text and data mining, the publishers are trying to carve out another monopoly right, and to set themselves up as gatekeepers over the knowledge contained within the articles they publish, as well as controlling access to the articles themselves. Clearly, that places unacceptable burdens on academics, and will throttle research and innovation in Europe, simply for the sake of being able to extract a further monopoly rent for the work carried out by others.
But the European Commission paid no heed, and insisted that licensing was the only way forward for handling text and data mining in Europe. Now a group of researchers, SMEs, civil society groups and open access publishers who were participating in the text and data mining talks, have had enough, as their recent letter makes clear (pdf):
We believe that any meaningful engagement on the legal framework within which data driven innovation exists must, as a point of centrality, address the issue of limitations and exceptions. Having placed licensing as the central pillar of the discussion, the "Licences for Europe" Working Group has not made this focused evaluation possible. Instead, the dialogue on limitations and exceptions is only taking place through the refracted lens of licensing. This incorrectly presupposes that additional relicensing of already licensed content (i.e. double licensing) -- and by implication also licensing of the open internet -- is
the solution to the rapid adoption of TDM technology.
This approach also undermines the considerable work that has been done in Europe to increase the amount of Open Access content available and encourage its exploitation. We are concerned, therefore, that our participation in a discussion that focuses primarily on proprietary licenses could be used to imply that our sectors accept the notion of double licensing of as a solution. It is not. We firmly believe that "the right to read is the right to mine".
The European Commission's refusal even to allow people to discuss that issue left only one option:
Given the above, and the fact that we need to prioritise our limited resources in a way which will best help the Commission to create an appropriate legal and environmental framework for data-driven innovation within the EU, we believe our contribution will be more productive outside the "Licences for Europe" framework. Therefore, we can no longer participate in the "Licences for Europe" process.
This is a real slap in the face for the European Commission, and for those who have organized these discussions in such a narrow and uncompromising way. As we saw with the user-generated content track, the sessions there were stacked with industry representatives that supported the Commission's line, thus depriving its outcome of any kind of legitimacy. With the withdrawal of such an important group of stakeholders from the text and data mining discussions, the same is now true for this key area.
As a result, the entire Licences for Europe strategy lies in tatters, since it consists almost entirely of the usual copyright maximalists talking amongst themselves, studiously ignoring the changes brought about by the Internet, and simply demanding even more while offering nothing of value. What's disappointing is that in the wake of ACTA's defeat last year it seemed that the European Commission had finally realized that it could not simply keep applying the upward copyright ratchet, and had recognized that things needed to change if it wanted to avoid more people taking to the streets in protest. The Licences for Europe fiasco shows that the Commission has in fact learned nothing.