News blog

Data mining given the go ahead in UK

Posted on behalf of George Wigmore.

Data mining, the process of analysing data for trends and patterns, will be made exempt from UK copyright laws. The change is part of the government’s plans to modernize the UK’s intellectual property laws, and is based on the recommendations made by Ian Hargreaves, Chair of Digital Economy at the University of Cardiff, in his May 2011 report Digital Opportunity: A review of intellectual property and growth.

For example, 87% of the material housed on the UK PubMed Central requires the copyright owner’s permission for text and data mining, which researchers say takes too much time and is in many cases impractical. Researchers can text and data mine author manuscripts from journals on the Open Access subset of PubMed Central. Although still protected by copyright, such manuscripts are made available under a Creative Commons license, which is more flexible.

Hargreaves’ recommendations could change all this. “The recommendations are immensely positive,” says Ben White, head of intellectual property at the British Library. “We think it’s immensely beneficial to the research sector that [the government] has accepted the Hargreaves recommendations.”

The development could make the UK “an extremely attractive place to carry out research and it will speed up the innovation cycle,” adds White.

With rapid technological developments, the law can be left behind. “Inevitably copyright law has to reflect technology, as it’s about information,” says White.

This development could support the mass digitalisation of documents, including for orphaned texts, which before were impossible to clear due to no rights holder being identifiable.

“If we were to do a digitalization of 500,000 books from our collection, it would take one person over 1,000 years to write to each rights holder,” says White, based on a soon to be published British Library / ARROW study on rights clearance. But these changes could help speed it up and make the process easier.

So finally it seems that the law matches the technology, and supports innovation, rather than holding it back.

UPDATE: I’ve looked into how these new rules will compare with the rest of the world. Some recommendations, such as being able to make personal copies of a CD you’ve purchased, have long been needed, bringing the UK in line with most of the rest of the world. But the data mining changes are more forward looking, as, according to White, the only other country that enables data mining is Japan.


  1. Report this comment

    Bradley Voytek said:

    Well, this is great news, but something I never even considered would be an issue.

    When my wife and I created brainSCANr to aggregate neuroscientific relationships from PubMed abstracts, I didn’t even consider the possible copyright ramifications.

    How naive of me.

Comments are closed.