Victor Hugo still rules EU copyright

Nieuws | de redactie
16 oktober 2013 | Big data, and the possibility to ‘mine’ these big data, has huge scientific potential. But in Europe Victor Hugo still rules copyright. That means the right to read is not the right to mine.

European copyright is terribly old-fashioned and hampers the digital innovation made possible by text and data mining, says Paul Keller, copyright-expert at Nederland Kennisland.

In 2012 the European Commission set up a series of working groups on various copyright-topics: cross border access to content, user generated content, access to audio visual heritage and text and data mining.

But updating copyright proved too big of a challenge for these expert groups: during this year many stakeholders withdrew, leaving the text and data mining-working group in particular without any input from civil society.

Extra permission to mine

So why is text and data mining important for digital innovation? Paul Keller: “Text and data mining is a significant tool for scientific research. In South-Korea, Japan and in the U.S. you can use text and data without any copyright-restrictions. In the EU however, you need extra permission to use a newspaper database for research.”

In a report on ‘big data’ McKinsey Global Institute calculated that government expenditure in Europe could be reduced by €100 billion per year, on top of making possible a range of medical innovations, through uncovering linkages between proteins, genes, pathways and diseases. But all of this requires open access to data.

Paul Keller: “Another problem with European copyright is that it is completely scattered: all European countries have different rules regarding quotations and the licenses for educational purposes vary broadly.”

“All these relevant topics should have been discussed in the Commission’s working groups, but they were not. It was time wasted.”

Stimulating useful science

“Europe has a very different copyright tradition than the U.S.”, says Keller. “Continental European copyright is based on the idea that there is a strong link between the maker and his work. You might say a part of the author’s identity is contained in the book. The central figure of this thinking is Victor Hugo who in 19th century France fought for authors rights. Today, we are still very much at that stage of thought.”

“The US has a different perspective: The US constitution frames copyright as a to ‘promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts’. This means that discussions about copyright can be much more open than in over her in Europe. Of course, when it comes to litigation, the stakes are much higher in America, but nevertheless copyright provides more room for innovation”

The copyright clause in e US constitution reads: “The Congress shall have Power to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”

Frustration that matters

It is not to be expected that the EU will follow in America’s footsteps shortly, as the EU’s expert debate on copyright is practically stalled. “At the beginning the European Commission was restrictive on who to admit to the working groups, nowadays they’re happy if people turn out at all.”

“On the topic of text and data mining there is very little progress made”, Keller says. “This must be very frustrating for the staff of Commissioner Kroes. But I think that people around Commissioner Barnier will be happy.”


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