How to write to your MEPs about European Copyright reform

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.

Are there issues when industry and academia team up for research?

This was originally posted at: http://blogs.egu.eu/palaeoblog/?p=1215

As an academic palaeontologist within a university, I have almost no industry links or prospects in my present or future. However, Dr. Alice Bell, science-policy aficionado, has invited me to join several distinguished guests in sparking a discussion about the links between industry and academia. This was following a twitter discussion (a twebate?) we both had following her post on the genesis of a partnership of sorts between one of the government-funded Research Councils, NERC, and fossil fuel giant Shell. It’s on May 20th at 7pm, the Fairly Square in London, and it would be great to see some of y’all there. I have a request beforehand though, for you to share your personal experiences or any thoughts and comments with the blog about links between industry and academia. Alice has set a number of target questions on her site.

The questions which I hope to address in my few minutes are:

  • Does increasing industry involvement alleviate the responsibility of the government to fund research?
  • What the implications of ‘strategy alignment’ between Research Councils and industry mean for research
  • The types of research that industry (Shell, maybe others) actually fund
  • The lack of obligation for industry to be open/transparent about the outputs of research (e.g., no OA obligation)
  • Overall implications for the impartiality/independence of research
If anyone has thoughts on these points, or those Alice has asked on her page, please do share them here. It would be useful to gather as broad experience as possible before delving into something that, admittedly, I am only familiar with on a general level and within my own department at university.

Every time you publish behind a paywall, a kitten dies.

This was originally posted at: http://blogs.egu.eu/palaeoblog/?p=1194

“Every day, people are denied access to something they have a right to.”

That’s the opening line from a new appeal from students Joe McArthur and David Carroll. Open Access describes a form of publication of research where articles are made instantly available for free, and with unlimited reusability rights, as long as the source is attributed. There are many pseudo-open access ‘definitions’ out there from publishers to obfuscate its use, but this is the only real, least restrictive one.

There has been a global open access movement over the last 10-15 years, which has accelerated so rapidly in the last year or two that many research funders and institutions, as well as government bodies, have developed open access policies. However, despite this progress, large commercial publishers like Wiley, Taylor and Francis, and Elsevier are still the most profitable industry in the world (with margins even higher than Apple), the majority of their profits coming from obscene charges for pdfs and library subscriptions for research articles and journals.

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From impact factors to impact craters

This was originally posted at: http://blogs.egu.eu/palaeoblog/?p=542

Day 2 in the Big Brother house (aka the European Geosciences Union General Meeting). There’s no where near enough beer, and tensions are getting high. A horde of angry horses have invaded the lower levels, and taken the President of Austria hostage, with demands of lowering the Fair Straw Tax.

But throughout all the acid-fuelled hysteria, two events have stuck out so far today. The first was a workshop discussion on open access publishing for early career researchers (ECRs), hosted by a new Editor for the EGU’s publishing house, Copernicus. Unfortunately, this event confirmed a lot of the current issues with the development of open access policies globally, in that there has been a serious communications breakdown about the effects the policy transitions, particularly in the UK now that Research Councils UK’s (RCUK) open access policy has come into play (April 1st), will have on how and where ECRs can publish. Here are comments on several of the more prevalent points raised:

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SpotOn London – a global conference

SpotOn London was held this weekend at the Wellcome Trust, shockingly, in London. The name stands for Science Policy, Outreach and Tools Online, with each of these representing three individual but strongly interwoven strands during the two days. As far as conferences go, it was pretty interactive. Each session was live-streamed, and through that and the power of Twitter –many people in each session either had an ipad, laptop, or mobile phone out tracking the online conversation, and drawing in additional comments from those who couldn’t be there in person.

It was also nice to briefly meet Barbara and Edvard of the EGU network (*waves at*). Apart from the small geo-cadre, the rest of the delegates represented in total the entire scientific discipline, from PhD students to BBC science reporters, communications managers, and those who work in science policy. When you consider science as being an interactive process, pretty much everyone present can be classed as some brand of scientist, representing the huge social range of the field. That’s intended as a compliment to any attendees who read this!

Typical attendee at the conference

So, why as a PhD student and palaeontologist, did I go to this conference? The primary reason is that I was actually invited to co-co-ordinate a session with Michelle Brook, the Head of Policy at the Physiological Society. As well as this, the ‘science communication network’, consisting rather loosely of those who do various outreach initiatives, work in science policy, reporting, editing, publishing, are an insanely valuable resource for personal development as an early career scientist. I only ‘joined’, or became aware of, this community around a year ago, and since then have begun to learn about issues such as gender bias in science, the open access movement, the role of science in government, the role of learned societies, as well as the value of blogging, and various other forms of communication, among other things. This has largely been fueled by being pretty active on Twitter, which is a pretty awesome way of staying in touch with the world beyond the desk/lab, and made a whole lot easier by living in London, which is undoubtedly the UK’s hub of science communication-relevant events, people, and organisations (ranging from CaSE to BioMed Central’s publishing house, and everything in between).

So yeah, the session. We decided to strike for the pretty hot topic of increasing engagement between scientists and policymakers. The panel consisted of Nic Bilham, Head of External Relations and Strategy at the Geological Society (and my old boss, who taught me everything I know about geoscience policy), Julian Huppert, the MP for Cambridge, and strong supporter of science within government, and Anna Zecharia, a post-doc at Imperial College, Head of the Science Communication Forum there, and someone with pretty big ideas for science communication and policy in the future. Michelle chaired the session. You can see their discussion here:

As well as this, we also organised a workshop to follow on from this discussion. If you want to see what any of this was like on Twitter, check out the #solo12sp hash tag. The video feed for this session was a bit fuzzy, seeing as how we had several discussions happening at the same time, based on the format idea of a ‘marketplace of discussion’, with the three panelists fueling debate and conversation by acting as focal areas of expertise. The idea is to take the notes and ideas made during this session, and collate them into some sort of guide document that scientists and policymakers can use to increase reciprocal engagement between the two. That’s not to say the two ‘sides’ are mutually distinct, and that interaction doesn’t happen already. It’s just that there could be more of it, and if some sort of strategic framework were established whereby communications between the two fields increased, for the benefit of both, then it would be mutually beneficial in terms of having more evidence-informed policies, where needed, and more policy-aware scientists. As far as how geology/geoscience fits in to this, I think, and I’m sure many would agree, that in times of issues such as climate change, energy security, natural hazards, radioactive waste, the more geoscientific input we have, the more informed we can be when it comes to tackling these. Where does palaeontology come in to all this? I’ll let you know when I’ve figured that one out.

For sticking with it, here’s an image of the dinosaur Tenontosaurus tilletti that I played with a couple of years ago.

[This was initially blogged at http://blogs.egu.eu/palaeoblog/2012/11/13/210/]