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How to write to your MEPs about European Copyright reform

This was originally posted here.

I mentioned in a previous post how important it is for researchers to equip themselves with knowledge about copyright issues (like this), and to become active in the struggle against publishers in retaining fair re-use rights for research. In the European Commission, this has been quite a high-profile debate this year (see here for example), with some preliminary results being released already.

Recently, Peter Murray-Rust of ContentMine and the University of Cambridge posted an open letter designed to ask that our MEPs become active in copyright reform here in the EU. I used a personalised version of this letter, and the writetothem.org website to send a message to my MEPs from my East Midlands constituency, and present the letter here in full:

Dear Roger Helmer, Glenis Willmott, Emma McClarkin, Andrew Lewer and Margot Parker,

Reform of European Copyright to allow Text and Data Mining (TDM)

I am a PhD student and researcher at Imperial College London and write to urge you to promote the reform of European laws and directives relating to Copyright; and particularly the current restrictions on Text and Data Mining (“ContentMining”). The reforms that MEP Reda promoted to the European Parliament earlier this year [1] are sensible, pragmatic and beneficial and I urge you to represent them to Commissioner Oettinger before he produces the policy document on the Digital Single Market (expected in early December 2015).

Science and medicine publishes over 2 million research papers a year, and billions of Euro’s worth of publicly funded research lie unused since no human can read the vast current literature. That’s an opportunity cost (at worst people die) and potentially a huge new industry. Many of my colleagues have been working for many years to develop the technology and practice of text and data mining (especially in bio- and chemical sciences). This has led to initiatives like ContentMine (http://contentmine.org/) which are making unparalleled leaps forward for researchers. I am convinced that Europe is falling badly behind the U.S. “Fair use” (see the recent “Google” [2] and “Hathi” books case) is now often held to allow the US, but not Europeans (with only “fair dealing” at best), to mine science and publish results.

Over several years, my colleagues have tried to find practical ways forward, but the rightsholders (mainly mega publishers such as Elsevier/RELX, Springer, Wiley, Taylor and Francis, and Nature Publishing Group) have been unwilling to engage. The key issues is “Licences” , where rightsholders require readers to apply for further permissions (and maybe additional payments) just to allow machines to read and process the literature. The EC’s initiative “Licences for Europe” failed in 2013, with institutions such as LIBER, RLUK, and British Library effectively walking out [3]. Nonetheless there has been massive industry lobbying this year to try to convince MEPs , and Commissioners, that Licences are the way forward [4].

The issue is simply encapsulated in my phrase “The Right to Read is the Right to Mine”; if a human has the right to read a document, they should be allowed to use their machines to help them. We have found scientists who have to read 10,000 papers to make useful judgments (for example in systematic reviews of clinical trials, animal testing, and other critical evaluations of the literature. This can take weeks or months of highly skilled scientist’s time, whereas a machine can filter out perhaps 90%, saving thousands of Euros. This type of activity is carried out in many European laboratories, so the total waste is very significant. In my own field of Palaeontology, recent advances in text and data mining have allowed us to automatically reconstruct the entire history of the diversity of life on Earth through an initiative (developed in the U.S) known as PaleoDeepDive [5].

Unfortunately the rightsholders are confusing and frightening the scientific and library community. Two weeks ago a NL statistician [6] was analysing the scientific literature on a large scale to detect important errors in the conclusions reached by statistical methods. After downloading 30,000 papers, the publisher Elsevier demanded that the University (Tilburg) stop him doing his research, and the University complied. Such events are becoming more common anecdotally. This is against natural justice and is also effectively killing innovation – it is often said that Google and other industries could not start in Europe because of restrictive copyright.

In summary, European knowledge workers require the legal assurance that they can mine and republish anything they can read, for commercial as well as non-commercial purposes. This will create a new community and industry of mining which will bring major benefits to Europe (see [7]).

[1] https://juliareda.eu/copyright-evaluation-report-explained/ and https://juliareda.eu/2015/07/eu-parliament-defends-freedom-of-panorama-calls-for-copyright-reform/
[2] http://fortune.com/2015/10/16/google-fair-use/
[3] https://edri.org/failure-of-licenses-for-europe/,
http://ipkitten.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/licences-for-europe-insiders-report.html
[4] The use of “API”s is now being promoted by rightsholders as a solution to the impasse. APIs are irrelevant; it is the additional licences (Terms and Conditions) which are almost invariably added.
[5]
http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0113523
[6] “Elsevier stopped me doing my research”
http://onsnetwork.org/chartgerink/2015/11/16/elsevier-stopped-me-doing-my-research/
[7]
http://contentmine.org/2015/11/contentmining-in-the-uk-a-contentmine-perspective/

Yours sincerely,

Jonathan Tennant

So thanks to Peter for making this a relatively painless task, and one which could have potentially high impact in return. It’s vital that researchers have their voices heard in these sorts of debate, and I strongly encourage anyone who cares about the future of research to become active in this respect. You can write to MEPs and other policymakers about anything you are interested in: it’s dead easy, and you have nothing to lose!

So far, I’ve only had one response that wasn’t an ‘out of office’ or automatic response, and I copy the full text of the response from Glenis Willmott MEP here below:

Dear Jonathan,

Thank you very much for your email.

I can assure you that Labour MEPs are on the side of research and understand the situation of researchers and our research institutions more generally. The European Commission has promised a wide-ranging and long-term revision of the European copyright framework, and we will be certain to keep the interests of educational establishments at the forefront of these negotiations.

In particular, the issue of licensing solutions as against a general exception for content mining has been one of our main focuses. During the discussions on the Reda Report, the Labour Party proposed an amendment which would have had the effect of extending the scope of exceptions and limitations to new technologies or new uses of existing technology, which would of course take into account new methods of content mining. This was adopted by a large majority in the European Parliament, and we are confident the European Commission, when proposing its copyright reform, will take this into account. A leaked Commission document entitled “Towards a modern, more European copyright framework” suggests a broad exception for “public interest research organisations”, and Labour MEPs will endeavour to tie down this definition and ensure its effective application.

We fully understand the need for legal clarity for consumers and end users, as well as flexibility to ensure that legislation takes account of the pace of technological change.

I hope you have found this information useful. If you have further questions on this, or any other issue, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Best wishes

Glenis Willmott MEP

So that’s that! I hope some of you decide that this sort of thing is worth campaigning for, and consider adding your voice to the discussion.

Getting into open science

This was originally posted at: https://thewinnower.com/papers/2301-my-open-science-story

It never really occurred to me not to be open. From the moment I started my PhD, I made a promise to myself that everything I did would be open and transparent. By this, I don’t just mean access to published papers – I wanted the data, and the information that I was generating to be freely available, and understandable to everyone. Apparently, this makes you a ‘radical’, but to me the alternatives just didn’t appeal. I didn’t see the sense in paywalls, in not sharing, in doing things for any reason but the benefit of the commons.

I remember during my Masters, back in 2011, vowing that my first paper would be published in PLOS ONE – I couldn’t fathom the idea that research I’d spent so long on wouldn’t be freely available. It took 3 years, but I eventually made it happen. My next paper was in PeerJ – I wanted to show that publishing open access early on in your career doesn’t cost anything, and is the easiest approach that benefits the most people. That’s when I really started to get into open science. Hitting paywalls when trying to do your research, or not knowing where the data was to support the conclusions of papers – these are huge impediments to researchers at all levels, and frankly I didn’t understand why it was the norm.

[Read More]

Nessie dwarfed by new Scottish crocodile

Yes, Nessie had to be in the title. Am I sorry? A little. But not enough to not use it.

Colleagues from the University of Edinburgh and myself have described the first Scottish crocodile fossil! It’s from the Isle of Skye, from a time known as the Middle Jurassic, and dates back around 160 million years ago. Based on a partial bit of a jawbone (the dentary), it’s hardly the most spectacular fossil we’ve ever found, but it tells quite a neat story.

Based on the features we could identify of the jawbone, we were able to identify the specimen as belonging to Theriosuchus. This genus has quite a complicated history, and currently 5 species are assigned to it that span some 100 million years! That’s pretty long lived for a single genus. Theriosuchus belongs to a group known as Atoposauridae, which based on our current understanding went extinct along with the non-avian dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous period.

[Read More]

New open science competition through ARCS

The ARCS (Advancing Research Communication and Scholarship) have launched a new ‘open scholarship’ competition. The aim is simple: describe your ‘open science story’, and you could win $1000! In particular, the competition is aimed at finding success stories – how has practicing any form of open science helped you advance or enhance your career in some way?

All submissions will be published and archived with The Winnower, an open access platform, and assigned a DOI for free so it will become citeable.

To submit your open success story, simply click HERE. Use ARCS2015 as a keyword, so your submission is included in the project collection and considered for a prize. Articles must be submitted before October 5th to be considered for a prize.

[Read More]

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