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Nearly a month later my local MP responds…

July 13th, 2012 | Posted by rmounce in Content Mining | Open Data

After sending a letter to my local MP, urging him to support the recommendations of the Hargreaves Report on Intellectual Property reform in parliament nearly a month ago (sent on the 17th June 2012) – I finally have a reply!

Sadly, it’s not the reply I wanted. Don Foster does not appear willing to support the Early Day Motion on Intellectual Property law reform to further enable research, that I explicitly asked him to sign.

 

Below is a verbatim copy of his letter as was emailed to me earlier (12th July 2012), which I am posting here so all his constituents can see, for their own satisfaction (or not, as in my case), his position with respect to IP reform.

 

 

12 July 2012

Mr Ross Mounce

Flat 3, Rochfort Court

Forester Avenue

Bath

BA2 6QY

Our Ref: Moun010/1

Dear Mr Mounce

 

Thank you for writing to me in reference to the exceptions for digital content proposed by the Hargreaves Review. I had in fact received your letter, so I apologise the confusion on Twitter and the delay in replying; life has been rather hectic recently not least because of the impending Olympics and my role as a member of the Olympic Board. Adding this to the very large amounts of correspondence received in my office each day, I’m sorry to say that I cannot always respond as quickly as I’d like.

 

As you may know, I have been involved in these issues for some time. I am currently working within Government on the development of the Communications White paper (which will touch on these issues when it is published in early 2013), I helped initiate – and serve as a member of – the Creative Industries Council (which, among other issues, is reviewing the Hargreaves Report) and am a member of the All Party Parliamentary Group on IP (which is currently reviewing the work of the IPO and its various recent pronouncements).

 

Inevitably I am somewhat constrained in responding in detail to your letter since some of the work I am involved in is not yet public and, more importantly, because final conclusions haven’t been reached.

 

I am also conscious that we have to work within – while seeking, potentially, to change – relevant EU legislation. As you will know, this includes the InfoSoc Directive (Directive 2001/29/EC; see http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=CELEX:32001L0029:EN:HTML.

 

You will know better than I, that the development of “exceptions” is never easy. An exception for “format shifting” may be alright and reasonable for, say, the music industry but the situation is very different for the UK Video Industry. Similarly, an exception for “parody” could make sense for small snippets used in a comedy show, but would not necessarily be appropriate for a situation where one artist does a complete performance of another artist’s song and claims it to be a parody. Some of the proposed exceptions for the copying of educational works seem to worryingly disregard the importance of copyright/IP protection in ensuring the flow of new works. 

Whilst Don Foster MP will treat as confidential any personal information which you pass on, he may need to allow his staff and authorised volunteers to see it if this is needed to help and advise you. Don may pass on all or some of this information to agencies such as DWP, Inland Revenue or Local Council if this is necessary to help with your case. We may write to you from time to time, to keep you informed on issues that you might find of interest. Please let us know if you do not wish him to contact you for this purpose

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In your letter you argue that the exceptions proposed in relation to “data mining” should be accepted.

 

I am well aware of the strength of feeling among some on this issue. But, as the IPO’s summary of the responses to consultation on the issue makes clear, proposals to enable researchers to use computerised techniques to read information contained in journal articles without infringing publishers’ rights have drawn “strongly divided” views from the industry.

 

Certainly it is true that, as the IPO puts it, “Researchers and research institutions generally supported the proposed exception. They argued that copyright was not established to restrict the use of data, and the added value of these technologies was provided by the actions of researchers, not publishers.”

 

However, there is also a strongly held opposing view; one which suggested that it was “too soon to seek a regulatory solution in a new and fast-developing sector, ” that “a copyright exception would prevent publishers from ensuring security of content and stability of provision,” and that “an unremunerated exception would remove the incentive for publishers to make the considerable investments needed to convert content into the right forms, to develop their own services, and to support the application of services by researchers or third parties.”

 

In the light of these arguments we are currently working to find a way forward. I am not yet in a position to give you assurances that I will press from the exceptions you seek as they are currently formulated (although, I am more inclined to support them than to oppose them).

 

I hope you will understand, and again, apologies for the delay in replying.

With best wishes,

Yours sincerely,

Rt Hon Don Foster MP

Please reply to 31 James Street West, Bath, BA1 2BT

Tel: 01225 338 973 Fax: 01225 463 630

 

I have also forwarded Don’s letter to all the staff in my department, as this is about research, and their local parliamentary representative’s views with respect to research, and thus concerns them:

 

Dear all,

Last month, I sent a formal letter to our local MP Don Foster, urging him
to sign his support for recommendations in the Hargreaves report[1] on
Intellectual Property law reform as it relates to research, particularly
the proposed exceptions to copyright to enable text-mining of otherwise ‘closed
access’ content. (You can read the full letter I sent here[2] it’s fairly short.)
The legal obstructions to text-mining research were also recently described in a Nature news piece[3].

This directly relates to my fellowship research project, as I’m using
content mining techniques to re-extract phylogenetic data from the
literature. At the moment I can only legally mine just ~13% of UKPMC
literature (the XML of which is just 5.5Gb[4] btw, let me know
if you want a copy). This is a great shame, as we have the tools and
capability to make use of ALL of the research literature and more with
current techniques. Only legal barriers prevent this.

I have attached his reply. At best he is sitting on the fence. At worst I
think he has failed to critically evaluate the meekness of the
counter-arguments given such as it being “too soon to seek a regulatory
solution”.

So, is anyone here interested in sending a further letter in support of
enabling text-mining research? This is perhaps our one and only chance to
directly influence government policy on this research issue. I feel a more
senior scientist from the University of Bath would perhaps help convince
Don to lend his support to this issue. The parliamentary motion already has
the support of 27 MPs[5], but will need more.

Please feel free to contact me offlist about this. I will not contact this
list about this issue again.

Many thanks for your time,

Ross

Links:
——
[1] http://www.ipo.gov.uk/ipreview.htm
[2] http://rossmounce.co.uk/2012/06/15/please-dont-restrict-scientific-endeavour/
[3] http://www.nature.com/news/trouble-at-the-text-mine-1.10184
[4] http://ukpmc.ac.uk/ftp/oa
[5] http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2012-13/151

Having invested some time in this already, there seems little point in giving up now. I will wait and see over the weekend if there is anyone else from my department (or the University as whole), that wants to pursue this further before I try again.

The subscription-access segment of the STM publishing industry that is protesting the recommendations of the Hargreaves report undoubtedly has paid lobbyists dedicated to this issue, and they have clearly done a good job here. I am unpaid and inexperienced with respect to arguing this from the research perspective, and probably outnumbered. But I will not stop trying to further enable research.