Open Access Week 2017: Open in order to…kickstart new types of research

It’s Open Access Week, the yearly global event to raise broad awareness about the opportunities and benefits for open access to scientific and scholarly research. Open Access Week—now in its 10th year—also mobilises action for progressive policy changes so that researchers and the public get immediate online access to the results of scholarly research, and the right to use and reuse those results.

During Open Access Week, we show our support for a variety of educational projects, publishing practices, and policy actions that push for open access to science and scholarship for everyone. In addition to advocating for the massive adoption of open access around the globe, we should also focus on protecting and expanding the fundamental user rights that permit access and reuse of copyrighted works.

Copyright law can boost or break new modes of research

We’re highlighting the importance of copyright law, which can either boost or significantly hinder Open Access. This year’s theme is “Open In Order To…”—an invitation to answer the question of what concrete benefits can be realized by making scholarly outputs openly available. We believe in the practice of being “Open in order to encourage new modes of research.” Creative Commons licensed publications and data can help realise the potential for scientific discovery because they are “open” for immediate access and reuse. CC licensed open access publications grant permissions that would otherwise be impossible under all-rights-reserved copyright schemes. But we know that everything will never be made available under an open license. That is why we strongly advocate for broad limitations and exceptions to copyright, especially for practices such as text and data mining.

Text and data mining (TDM) enables mechanical analysis of huge amounts of text or data, and has the potential to unlock interesting connections between textual and other types of content. Understanding these new connections can enable new research capabilities that result in novel technological discoveries, critical scientific breakthroughs, journalistic endeavors, and new business analytics opportunities.

The Commission produced a lackluster proposal with regard to TDM. We recommended that the Directive should be amended to ensure that they achieve the goal of facilitating research and innovation across all parts of society by permitting anyone to engage in text and data mining. This means removing the limitation on research organisations as the sole beneficiaries of the proposed exception. We also urged that the exception should allow text and data mining for any purpose. This means removing the limitation on scientific research as the only purpose allowed for under the proposed exception.

Expanding the exception for text and data mining to apply to anyone for any purpose helps to create a more certain legal situation for users who wish to engage with research in new and interesting ways. From a technical perspective, research shows that full text search allows for better TDM than only searches across abstracts of scientific articles. From the report of the study:

Researchers analyzed more than 15 million scientific articles published in English from 1823 to 2016. After creating two databases of those articles—one of full-text and one of abstracts—the researchers directly compared the results of mining either. Text mining full research articles gave consistently better results than text mining abstracts. In one example test, the authors identified far more associations between genes and a variety of diseases from the full-text articles than the abstracts—potentially creating a treasure trove of ideas for future research targets.

What users need from a legal perspective is a progressive copyright exception that can empower new types of research made possible by advances in technology and computing power.

New rights for publishers will hinder Open Access

If we want to champion “Open in order to promote new modes of research,” one thing we don’t need is the gifting of additional rights for publishers to restrict access and use of scientific and scholarly research. But this is exactly what has been proposed by the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (the committee supposedly responsible for policy relating to the promotion of scholarly research), which voted to extend the press publishers right to cover scientific publications.

As we’ve repeatedly pointed out, granting additional protection to academic publications (specifically excluded in the Commission’s original proposal) would mean that users of scientific and scholarly journal articles could be forced to ask permission or pay fees to the publisher for including short snippets of a research paper in another publication. This type of arrangement is completely antithetical to longstanding norms in scientific research and scholarly communications. And any such new right to control and monetise use of snippets of academic articles would significantly limit the sharing of open access publications and data which currently are freely available for use and reuse in further scientific advances.

A satire on the art business in which art experts and dealers who assess paintings are depicted as donkeys. After the drawing by Trémolières in the Hessisches Landes Museum in Darmstadt (cropped).
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