Citizens and research: The forgotten voices of copyright reform

Policymakers must not lose sight of citizens’ and the research community’s needs when updating copyright rules, writes Catherine Stihler.

Catherine Stihler | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual

By Catherine Stihler

26 Mar 2018

Several elements of the copyright reform proposal have caused controversy, in particular the narrow exception on text and data mining (TDM). Amid the many voices expressing either their outrage or support for the proposal (there are many on either side of the barricades), some voices seem to have been drowned out - those of the EU citizens and the research community.

Overall, I think the Commission has failed to deliver a legislative piece that had the greater public good in mind.

A better EU copyright proposal, with broader limitations and exceptions, would bring about positive change, not only for citizens or individual users but for the research community at large. Increased digital access, data analytics and open information flows will increase innovation in Europe.


The European Commission’s Horizon 2020 programme similarly supports open access to scientific publications and research data as essential drivers of EU global competitiveness.

The EU has set an example internationally with its extensive policy work, for example by including open access in one of its six European research area (ERA) priorities.

Moreover, at the competitiveness Council in 2016, all of Europe’s ministers of science, innovation, trade and industry committed to open access to scientific publications as the default option for publicly funded research results by 2020. Open science is increasingly accepted by governments and industry as a means of not only accelerating innovation, but also ensuring faster access to information for citizens.

However, several proposed elements, such as a narrow TDM exception, the new press publishers’ right and an oppressive liability regime for platforms, will prevent Europe from innovating and from realising the significant potential of open access and open science in promoting scientific discovery and progress. It may thereby reduce the impact of European research worldwide.

What I find particularly perplexing is that the Commission has clearly stated that artificial intelligence (AI) is of key strategic importance and a key economic driver in the EU, yet what is contained in the current copyright proposal would actually hamper the development of AI. The greater the access to data that machines have, the more they can learn.

As the Commission itself states, “this technology (AI) can bring solutions to many societal challenges from treating diseases to minimising the environmental impact of farming. Moreover, AI offers major business opportunities for European industry, SMEs and start-ups and contributes to productivity growth”.

Why is the Commission doing one thing in one policy field, while doing the complete opposite in another? By contradicting itself and by proposing a narrow TDM exception the Commission would actually limit the access to data rather than increasing it. We need more joined-up thinking when it comes to delivering workable policies in the field of AI.

The rapporteur for this file has not yet delivered his draft compromises on the TDM exception or the press publishers’ right. I hope he takes into consideration what’s at stake here - it’s Europe’s wider research, economic and industrial capacity. It is imperative that MEPs fully understand what consequences there will be before they vote to support a poorly-drafted legislation based on models of the past.


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