New digital law provides easier access and use for scientific data and articles

The draft law for a Digital Republic has just been adopted by the Senate (September 28). Emmanuelle Jannès-Ober, Deputy Director of the Forecasting, Technical Monitoring and Science Promotion Department at Irstea has been particularly active in the debate as part of her inter-institutional role at EPRIST. Here, she discusses the 2 articles and the challenges that the scientific community came together to face. 

Irstea: The discussion was complex and heated. Can you give us a summary of the main challenges? 

Emmanuelle Jannès-Ober, Deputy-Director of the Forecasting, Technical Monitoring and Science Promotion Department © Irstea - V. Goulette

Emmanuelle Jannès-Ober: During the public consultation on the Digital Republic Act, the scientific community came together primarily to limit the embargoes set up by publishers on articles from publicly funded research. These embargoes are specific periods predefined by scientific journals, during which the journals retain exclusive distribution rights for articles, thus limiting their distribution and use. The length of these periods varies, but they can be very long; for example, up to 24 months for articles published by a human and social sciences journal.  

We have managed to obtain a concession so that the content of any publicly funded research articles, including human and social sciences, becomes freely available within 6 to 12 months after initial publication.

It soon became clear that this Act provided an opportunity to expand the debate to cover all scientific output, as well as current and future tools. It was therefore important to introduce a research exception to the copyright, in order to remove limitations to the scope of scientific text and data mining (TDM) applications. 

Irstea: Text and data mining is part of a new range of research methods that are unknown to the general public. Could you explain what these tools do and what issues accompany them?

Emmanuelle Jannès-Ober: Basically, Text and Data Mining tools (TDM) are a means of exploiting the potential of Big Data for research. Specifically, these software tools (search engines, semantic extraction tools and analysis, linking and visualization tools, etc.) make it possible for scientific teams to mine, cross-reference and correlate the content of a body of work and/or data across multiple sources and media in order to extract new information and create knowledge.

France is a leader in this field. In the case of text mining for example, these highly efficient tools use learning to determine intelligent connections between elements of text within a large body of work and a concept, even if said concept is not specifically expressed. These tools have been used to identify research strands or precious correlations that would previously have taken research teams years to discover. They allow us to go further more quickly and have the potential to open up new research - if and only if we have unfettered access to the scientific literature and data needed for the research. The scientific community, supported by enlightened government ministers and Thierry Mandon, managed to convey that France must adopt legislative tools so that French science can participate on equal terms with other countries (Britain, Japan, USA, etc.) that already benefit from this exception to copyright regulations. An article recognizing the exception for TDM was therefore introduced into the act.  

Irstea: The act was adopted on June 29 this year, with the 2 articles you supported (Articles 17 and 18b) and adopted by the Senate on September 29. What's next? 

Emmanuelle Jannès-Ober: We are waiting impatiently for the implementing decrees announced for January 2017 and will continue to apply pressure and communicate with French legislators until the end of the year. We are also preparing for a future review of the European Directive on Copyright, which should begin soon in order to defend the same exception to copyright for research on a European scale. 

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