With friends and colleagues in the industry I have been looking at formulating a debate to be held in November this year on the post-Brexit regulatory scenario for the information industry in the UK. I find myself in a quandary, and since it is the spirit of our age, I intend to share the problem with you, in search of therapy if not solutions.

First, some positioning confessional. I am a passionate European free trader. Left to myself, when the Great Repeal Act takes place after 2019, and all the existing regulation of the information marketplace is confirmed as part of the body of UK law, I would like to shut the book and leave it there. Furthermore, I believe that it is vital to facilitating free trade that regulatory regimes between trading nations are as equal as possible so that regulatory barriers and compliance requirements are diminished. In dear old EU days we called this “harmonisation”. I argue from this that if the EU, our largest trading partners, make further changes in their laws on intellectual property ownership or data protection, as examples, then we would do well to reflect those changes in our own legal infrastructure in order not to create fresh hurdles for those creating pan European information products and services. After all, would a sensibly organized European car industry deliberately introduce variable left or right hand drive regimes in one continent?

So my natural answer would be to the policy wonks and regulation nerds – leave everything alone! Yet I know that pressures will come from all sides of the commercial and political arena for post-Brexit change, and this will be quicker to effect in the unitary authority of the Disuited Kingdom than ever it was in the 28 nation veto-fest of the EU. And here are some of the “opportunities” for change that are currently in the wind for post Brexit debate:

1. COPYRIGHT   Copyright law in the UK bears all the marks of 43 years of EU membership. EU law is based firmly on the protection of creative acts and the recognition of the rights of creators to determine how their creativity is used. UK law had, pre-EU, moved strongly to protect the economic rights associated with creativity -“the sweat of the brow” – (lawyers – please forgive the level of generalisation!). Many of us lobbied hard and long and successfully to restore the balance with the little used Directive on the Legal Protection of Databases, which creates an ownership in the acts of collation and arrangement of data in a database, whether or not the data concerned where themselves wholly or partially protected by copyright. Others still seek a Publishers Right, akin to the rights enjoyed by record companies, which protects the act of getting the work published in the first place, distinct from any other rights enjoyed by authors. Obviously, plastic Brexit lobbying could see a stronger lurch in what is a very British direction.

2. DATA PRIVACY AND PROTECTION   Europe has one of the strongest data regulation regimes in the world. It centres on the privacy of personal data and is highly restrictive in terms of the accumulation and storage of data on people in marketing services and solutions. The signs from current proposals in Europe are that the regulatory burden on suppliers in this sector is likely to become more onerous rather than less. At the same time, the existing ways of equating data regimes across the Atlantic – from Safe Harbor to Privacy Shield are now themselves exhausted, and the UK will not be at the table when Europe and the USA next negotiate trade barriers in this increasingly vital area.

I still say “stay anchored to the trading blocs you depend upon and follow the European route”. And here is the other argument:

3. SCENARIO  Post Brexit suggests an opportunity for the UK to really grow its place in global information supply. Through tax breaks on data storage, data assembly and start-ups in the sector the UK could punch well above its weight IF it had

– a “sweat of the brow” copyright regime that fully protected acts of data assembly and service and solution creation.

– a safe harbor regime that allowed third party creation of data services using personal data offshore, with only the services and solutions, not the personal data, being capable of re-export to the countries from which the personal data derived.

– a protection regime like the Dublin financial services Freeport which defined the tax status of these operations.

– an English-language bias that turned the UK into a software and service development outsource, especially tuned to serving European customers as a route to global markets.

And there are wilder ideas – to quote a colleague “Why should Kazakstan have all the good tunes – we could be the offshore pirate radio of data services, hosting everything the world wants, including SciHub!”.

Enough! I am still in the free trader camp, but I invite any reader to post here ideas for post-Brexit – or better reasons than mine for staying where we are now.

Resolution: whatever we do in 2017, let us not enumerate our actions. “20 new uses for AI”, “Six fastest ways of going broke online”, “9 rules for investment success Digitally”, “3 certain ways of employing the right strategies for…” Enough. ENOUGH!

What follows here will be some things I am tracking that may or may not happen in 2017. This piece will end when I am tired or you are bored. Neither of us is keeping score.

* I am using a keyboard to communicate with you. Why? Since the early 1980s when I had to persuade lawyers to use them (“you mean, like my secretary?”). I have annually forecast the end of the keyboard. It’s stubborn resistance is deplorable, given its slowness and inadequacy as an interface. Will 2017 see at least the beginning of its end?

* Voice is the natural and obvious way to address a machine. We now have really good technology to relate voice documents to text. We can even (Wibbitz) turn text into video. And we have made two decades of progress in annotating documents with rich metadata, telling us what they contain and linking them to other texts in whatever form they have when stored or originated. Yet we still cannot fluently “communicate” with them.

* Yet they are, these texts, gradually getting the ability to communicate with each other. 2017 will see further evidence of self-cross referencing and self-updating environments. These will be essential to a future based on machine learning and machine intelligence. Will 2017 see the beginnings of a greater fluency within knowledge systems, be they business environments, scholarly research or intelligence systems, than exists between the people using them? “Sorry, I can no longer explain to you what we know about that, so perhaps your machine would like to talk to ours and get the full picture?”

* Please can we start inventing words to describe the forms we are using, instead of importing into the virtual world the format hangovers from the past. Book, magazine, newspaper, journal, article. Especially that last one. We need new words for episodes of scholarly communication, for example, that indicate aspects of research reporting: “article” does not cut it where “results” could mean “patent” or “data” or other matter relevant to research outcomes but stored elsewhere, not searchable in the same context etc. And the same confusing, terminological poverty exists everywhere.

* We need more numbers. We have spent the past twenty years trying hard to identify content, sources and authors. Now, in the face of legal sanctions which will only get tighter, we face an urgent need to better identify users. The ability to follow, record and measure online activity, and the value of the individual research trail as a contribution to knowledge, now becomes so great that individuals will be constrained to surrender privacy rights of their own in order to benefit from the data created as a result of others doing so. Or they may even be paid to do so.

* Self-publishing goes further and faster next year. Every publisher will have a system. Much will have been increased in sophistication and many services will be free. Creating documents that automatically join the community of reference and talk to each other in ways that update and restore currency is a predictable outcome, towards which we shall see further progress in 2017.

* “Verticalization” is becoming a key theme. We have seen in 2016 how a number of major information industry players have begun to exit horizontal, multi-market portfolio holdings and try to regroup around vertically-integrated, enterprise-driven corporate structures. More of that in 2017, as content becomes more commoditised and shared more effectively amongst users, and the age of data leads beyond the democratisation of information to the idea that it is not the information that has value that you need to protect as much as the way you treat it and relate it – we should be heralding the Age of Analytics.

* Look to see this reflected in M&A. More divestments of content that does not fit the vertical interest. More acquisition of tools, process systems, data analytics, discovery instruments etc. Once we added value to the information: now we will seek to add value to the process of using it, building client reliance on our ability to outsource whole sections of workflow seamlessly. This changes the dynamics of client relationships in ways that many current information players are wholly unprepared, as yet, to confront.

* Some of the old sayings learnt and rehearsed in the past 25 years of mass online usage remain valid. “Nothing succeeds in the network until it has first failed in the network” (think about current commentary on Blockchain). “Change is infinitely and often imperceptibly slow… but then goes with a rush at the end” (think about networks and user populations and communities and brands). “Nothing is so funny to the coming generation as the old-fashioned and antediluvian way in which the immediately previous generation organised themselves in the virtual world” (think about My Space and Facebook, and then Facebook and…)

How many was that? No, do NOT count them. If you have reached this point please accept the profound good wishes of this writer for a peaceful, productive and overwhelmingly happy new year. And if you didn’t? Well, the interstices between wisdom and idiocy are wafer-thin, and we shall never know whether you will have been wiser for not reading it than I have been by virtue of writing it!

keep looking »