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Copyright and Text & Data mining – what do I need to know?

Kirsty6 July 2021

Text and Data Mining (TDM) is a broad term used to cover any advanced techniques for computer-based analysis of large quantities of data of all kinds (numbers, text, images etc). It is a crucial tool in many areas of research, including notably Artificial Intelligence (AI). TDM can be used to reveal significant new facts, relationships and insights from the detailed analysis of vast amounts of data in ways which were not previously possible. An example would be mining medical research literature to investigate the underlying causes of health issues and the efficacy of treatments.

The importance of having copyright exceptions in place to facilitate TDM arises from the fact that the swathes of material which need to be mined are often protected by copyright. That would be true for example of “literary works” of all kinds and of images in many cases. It is frequently the case that researchers will have lawful access to the material but will be prevented from applying TDM techniques because copying the material onto the required computer platform risks legal action for infringement on the part of the copyright owners. “Copying” is of course one of the acts restricted by copyright law and in general the greater the amount and variety of material, the greater the copyright risk.

It is worth remembering that when the Government created an exception for Text and Data Mining in 2014, it meant that the UK was ahead of the game. Other countries did not generally have an exception in their legislation at that time. Since then, other jurisdictions have caught up and, in some cases overtaken the UK. Cutting edge research is a highly competitive area and researchers working in a country which benefits from a generous TDM exception will have a distinct advantage.

The existing exception is still significant from the Open Science perspective in enabling research projects where computer analysis of large quantities of copyright-protected material is required, particularly in the context of AI.

Let’s take a closer look at the UK TDM exception and what it allows us to do, before comparing it briefly with the more recent EU exceptions. The UK exception is to be found in Section 29A of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

What does the exception allow us to do?

Copying copyright-protected works in order to carry out “text and data analysis” (“computational analysis” in the wording of the exception). The need to copy arises because researchers must have have the material to be analysed on a specific platform, to carry out the analysis. The need for the exception then arises because without it, the researcher would require permission from the owner of copyright in each item. Without permission (or an exception), the researchers would be infringing copyright by copying a vast swathe of protected material. That in turn would often make the research impractical to carry out.

Who may do this?

Absolutely anyone, the exception says “a person.” This is wonderfully broad and one of the more favourable aspects of the UK exception. For example you don’t need to be working for/ studying at a particular type of institution to benefit from the exception.

Are there conditions?

You must have lawful access to the material. A prime example would be the text of academic journals. We have lawful access to large numbers of e-journals because UCL Library subscribes to them. The exception would allow a UCL researcher to download large amounts of content from e-journals to carry out detailed analysis using specialised tools. It is important to note that the exception cannot be overridden by contract terms. It follows that a term in an e-journal contract seeking to prevent TDM would have no force, in circumstances where the exception applies. This makes the exception a much more useful tool than it would otherwise be.

As you might expect the copies made for TDM purposes may not be used for other purposes, shared etc under the exception.

Significantly, the analysis must be “…for the sole purpose of research for a non commercial purpose.” This is a major restriction, which would rule out many situations where TDM might be used, for example research by a pharmaceutical company developing new drugs which will be marketed commercially. A major issue with the exception is that it can be unclear at what point “non-commercial” shades into “commercial.” A project which starts out as academic research may take on commercial significance down the line and a piece of research with no commercial aspects may be funded by commercial sponsors. It is an important constraint in the legislation which can also be difficult to be sure about in real life situations. It can stand in the way of joint projects by HEIs and commercial organisations.

Still, in situations where we can claim there is no commercial aspect to the research, the exception is potentially very useful. In addition to material which is already digital it can cover projects where digitisation of copyright- protected print material is required to be analysed. It can be very useful in situations where the copyright status of the source material is unclear, since provided the exception applies, there is no need to investigate further the complexities of copyright in the material.

The new EU TDM exception or rather exceptions

The EU Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market (DSM Directive) offers two new exceptions, which EM member states are obliged to transpose. They can be found in Articles 3 and 4 of the Directive.

There are important differences of approach to the UK in the answer to the question:  who may carry out the TDM? Article 3 provides an exception which benefits two defined categories of organisations: “Research organisations” and “Cultural heritage organisations.” Included within those groups are for example universities, museums, publicly funded libraries. Commercial organisations are excluded. It seems that independent researchers, not associated with an organisation would also be excluded, even though their research might be “non-commercial.” In common with the UK legislation, this exception cannot be overridden by contract terms and is therefore a powerful tool. The Directive addresses the question of public-private research collaborations in the recitals to the directive, e.g. recital 11. They are not excluded from benefitting from the Article 3 exception.

Article 4 offers a separate TDM exception which is available to anyone (including commercial organisations) but which is limited in a specific way: If the rights owners explicitly reserve the rights to carry out TDM within their works, then it cannot be mined under the exception. In other words, the EU DSM Directive goes one step further than the UK by offering an exception which can be used to mine lawfully accessible works by commercial organisations (or by anyone else), but it does not apply if the rights owner has explicitly ruled out TDM.  By contrast, commercial organisations would not be able to use the UK exception, unless they can claim the specific research is for a non-commercial purpose.

Guest post by Chris Holland, UCL Copyright Support Officer. For more information or advice contact: copyright@ucl.ac.uk

Brexit and beyond webinar in conjunction with Copyright4Knowledge

Kirsty4 May 2021

On the back of our successful #EbookSOS webinar we are doing it again – join us for another collaboration with Copyright4Knowledge, this time on the subject of the post-Brexit copyright world.

What will the copyright environment be like post-Brexit? How can we best advocate for more library- and research-friendly copyright legislation? The European Union and the European Court of Justice have long exercised a major influence on UK copyright law and the decisions of UK courts in copyright matters. What will happen post-Brexit, given that EU copyright law no longer applies directly in the UK?

Brexit poses many questions for the Library and Research communities and we will endeavour to explore some of them in our Brexit and beyond webinar on 17th May 2021, from 11.00 to 12.30. You are invited to join our three expert speakers to discuss the copyright environment for HE and Research post Brexit.  What are the challenges post-Brexit and does Brexit also present opportunities?

There will be an opportunity to put your questions to the panel in a final Q and A session.

The webinar is free to attend but if you would like to join us please register via Eventbrite

Draft programme

  • 00-11.10  Welcome and introduction
  • 10-11.30 European digital policy and why it still matters to the UK, Catherine Stihler (CEO Creative Commons)
  • 11.30-11.50 Will the UK fall behind the EU in important areas of digital research and online access to 20th century cultural heritage? Benjamin White (Researcher, Centre for Intellectual Property Policy and Management, Bournemouth University)
  • 11.50-12.10 Some suggestions for copyright advocacy in the post-Brexit world, Dr Emily Hudson (Reader in Law, King’s College London)
  • 12.10-12.30 Q&A

Embracing citizen science to answer: how can technologies help us age more easily?

Kirsty27 January 2021

Guest post by Alice Hardy, Institute of Healthcare Engineering


At the Institute of Healthcare Engineering, we wanted to create technological solutions that meet real people’s needs – but reaching our target users can sometimes be a bit tricky. We’re taking a ‘citizen science’ approach to engage with the users who need new health technology the most, and bring their ideas to life.

The ageing challenge

As a population we are living longer lives than ever before, with half the babies born in the UK today expected to reach their 100th birthday.

Longer life spans are cause for celebration, but growing older comes with downsides. Too often, people ageing are faced with problems like loneliness, loss of independence and avoidable years of disease.

Tackling these challenges is a strategic priority for the UK Government and funding bodies.

Across all faculties of UCL, researchers are developing technologies to help people live their extra years healthier and happier. However, to make these solutions as effective as possible, we need to engage with our end-users from the start. That’s where out citizen science approach comes in.

Crowdsourcing innovation

At the UCL Institute of Healthcare Engineering, we act as cross-faculty hub for anyone in healthcare engineering or digital health at UCL. Our is to nurture the ideas and partnerships that result in life-changing health technology.

We understand the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration when developing new technologies, and a key part of that is garnering fresh perspectives from groups that can be difficult for us to reach. We want to deconstruct the idea of what is means to be an ‘expert’ and open this up to everyone – we’re all experts in growing older!

That’s why we launched the Age Innovation Hub; an online platform where we ask the public how technology could help them. Their feedback will then go onto shape real-world projects at UCL, with citizen science integrated at every step of the way.

Using this crowdsourcing tool was a way for us to directly reach out to the public and involve them in the research going on at UCL. Not only is their insight important to improve the research, but a more open relationship with the public also helps to combat perceptions that universities can be slow-moving and out of touch with the public’s needs. This crowdsourcing tool also has great potential for use in other campaigns and across UCL.

How it works

To shape the discussion, we created ‘challenge areas’ based on the biggest challenges facing older people:

  • Supporting people with health concerns
  • Creating healthy environments
  • Building social communities
  • Staying independent at home for longer
  • Staying active

In these discussion areas, users are encouraged to post their ideas, share their feedback, and vote for ideas they support. Our team of moderators keep the conversation flowing with encouraging words and probing questions; we want to cultivate an inclusive, welcoming community where anyone in the UK can share their thoughts on healthy ageing, and feels heard.

Opportunities for UCL researchers

In addition to allowing the public to share their thoughts, the Age Innovation Hub is an opportunity for UCL researchers to gain valuable feedback on their current research challenges. The Hub is open for you to get involved, so visit it now and join the conversation.

There are a number of ways for researchers to participate:

  • Submit challenges or questions from your own research areas that you’d like feedback on directly into one of the challenges
  • Write a blog to tell visitors more about existing research going on at UCL in healthy ageing or your experiences with citizen science
  • Engage in discussion on some of the ideas already posted, add your own comments and thoughts
  • Join a panel of experts that will help evaluate the needs and ideas submitted from the public (March/April 2021)

You can join the discussion now at ageinnovationhub.crowdicity.com

To find out more, you can contact the Institute of Healthcare Engineering team via ageinnovation@ucl.ac.uk