Research Librarians: New TDM exception can be undermined by technical blocking from publishers

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Today the Association of European Research Libraries (LIBER) issued a warning that the new Text and Data Mining (TDM) exceptions contained in the DSM directive can easily be undermined by technical blocking from publishers. LIBER has come to this conclusion based on the results of a survey on content blocking, carried out by LIBER’s Copyright & Legal Matters Working Group and the UK Libraries and Archives Copyright Alliance (LACA). The submissions to the survey so far confirm fears that Technical Protection Measures (TPM) can be abused by rightholders to limit the usefulness of the exceptions contained in the directive. 

Article 3 of the directive allows reproductions in the context of text and data mining for the purposes of scientific research made by research organisations and cultural heritage institutions. While the article allows rightholders to take measures to ensure the security and integrity of the networks, it does not allow them to prevent researchers from exercising their rights under the exception. It also requires rightholders to remove any TPMs that prevent researchers from exercising their rights but does not specify how quickly this has to happen. 

The survey conducted by LIBER shows that in practice it is difficult for researchers to get rightholders to remove TPMs or other access and use restrictions to content that research institutions have licensed. And in cases where such limitations are eventually removed the process is often long and resource intensive. All of this does not only frustrate efforts to text and data mining by individual researchers, but can also have negative consequences for entire institutions. 

The submissions shared with us by libraries and researchers from a mix of countries (some with TDM exceptions already and some without) show that:

  • Researchers are blocked from accessing many types of content. Journal articles were the most common type of content mentioned (44%) but eBooks, websites, databases and newspapers were also cited.
  • Content blocking takes, on average, nearly a month to resolve. Respondents reported that it took between 24 hours and 2-1/2 months to resolve the content blocking issue, with the mean time being 24 days. A fifth of survey respondents said they were only partially able to resolve the issue and 11% said it was never resolved.
  • Sanctions impact whole communities, not just individual researchers. Actions taken by publishers included 1) suspension of campus-wide access to paid for electronic subscriptions 2) threats to cut off access to content unless TDM was stopped 3) technically limiting downloads to one document only 4) a request for additional payments and 5) the introduction of captcha technology to frustrate data mining

The findings reported by LIBER are extremely relevant in the context of the ongoing implementations of the DSM directive in the EU member states. As we have noted in our implementation guide for articles 3 & 4 of the directive Member states should include in their national laws provisions requiring rightholders to remove TPMs and resolve lock-outs within a maximum period of 72 hours once reported.

In order to better make the case why such a requirement must be included in national implementations LIBER is continuing to collect evidence of abusive practices. If you work for an academic research institutions that has ran into similar issues in the past you can still contribute your experience to LIBER: 

If you or your organisation have ever been blocked from accessing a publisher’s servers for reasons you believe are related to data mining, fill out the survey. The survey can be answered anonymously and will remain open indefinitely. You can also send information on this issue to liberlegalworkinggroup@gmail.com”.

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