It reminds one superficially of mineral extraction. Who owns the seam of diamonds – the miner or the landowner? When rights are not clear or landownership in dispute? But this business of text or data mining is not really like that at all, and I was reminded this week by blogging contributions from two old friends that who owns the results of data extraction, from thousands or millions of unstructured files, where the data retrieved from individual datasets may be tiny (well within most fair usage provisions) but the contribution to the whole value may be huge, remains at issue. Play this in the context of Big Data and real questions emerge.

Lets go back to the beginning. Here are a couple of top of head examples of life on the planet that give a clue to what is worrying me:

* According to research quoted by the UK’s National Centre for Text Mining “fewer than 7.84% of scientific claims made in a full text article are reported in the abstract for that article”. This, they point out, makes cross-searching of articles using data mining and extraction techniques very important to science research. Fortunately the JISC organization which licences all journal article content from publishers on behalf of UK universities permits researchers to data mine these files, and no doubt this was agreed with the publishers within the license(?). But the question in my mind is this: who owns the product created by the data mining, and is this a new value which can be resold to someone else?

* Lexis Risk Management use many hundreds of public and private US data resources in their Big Data environment to profile people and companies. Both private and public data is researched, and, of course, it will often be the case that unique connections will be thrown up which encourage or discourage users from doing business with the data subject. Clearly Lexis own the result of the custom sweep of the data, and clearly it needs to be updated and amended over time as a result of fresh data becoming available, or more data being licensed into the mine. But do Lexis, or any other data extractor, own the result of the extraction process? They are able to sell a value derived from it, and that value emerges directly from the search activity and the weighting of the answers that they have accomplished. But do they own or need to own the content (which may be different in ten minutes time when another search is done on the same subject)? And can the insurance company who buys that result as part of their risk management model resell the data content itself to a third party?

I have put up two examples because I do not wish to polarize the argument into publishers v government. The issue arises in the UK, as the media lawyer’s lawyer, Laurie Kaye has pointed out, because the Hargreaves Review of copyright law recommends the retention of rights with the data miner – so you can make new products by recombining other people’s data. The UK government has adopted this recommendation with its usual emphatic “maybe”. Elsewhere in the world of August which I deserted to take a holiday, the UK government has come out with a storming approval of Open Data, and, as Shane O’Neill has repeatedly pointed out in his blogs, this contrasts sharply with the content retention policies pursued by UK civil servants, even now creating a Public Data Corporation in order to frustrate the political drive of its masters (how easily a licensing authority becomes a restricting body!).

There are two really troubling aspects of this to me. In the first instance we are not going to get the data revolution, the Berners Lee dream of linked data, the creation of hybrid workflow content modelling, or the Big Data promise of new product and service development unless there is a primary assumption in our society that all Open Web content, and all government or taxpayer funded content is available for data cross searching, unless there are national security considerations. And that it is a standard expectation for data leasing that discovery from multiple files creates new services for the person putting the intellectual effort into that discovery, and hopefully new wealth and employment in our society. If we simply continue to debate copyright as if it connotes the transfer of real world rights into the digital network then we shall constrain the major hope of intellectual property development this century.

And the second thing? Well, I am realist enough to know, after 20 years of lobbying this point, that it is unreasonable to expect the UK government to change its attitude to an information society in my lifetime. So maybe we can undermine these guardians of “my information is my power” by saying that we do not want their content – just the right to search it. After all if it is good enough for the universities and the progress of science, it should be good enough for Ordnance Survey and the Land Registry!


Making Open Data Real (

The Public Data Corporation (

Response to the Hargreaves Report (

National Centre for Text Mining (

Laurence Kaye (

Shane O’Neill (


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