UK Reforms Copyright Laws

The United Kingdom is revamping its intellectual property laws for published research.

Aug 4, 2011
Jef Akst


The UK is updating its copyright laws to fit in with current research practices, in particular the now nearly ubiquitous use of the internet as a forum for publishing and reading articles, ScienceInsider reports.

Specifically, the government plans to permit exceptions to the copyright laws that would allow researchers to mine published materials for data, for meta-analyses as an example, without first receiving permission from the copyright holder. The practice is currently blocked by intellectual property protections for much medical research. The government said it is also endorsing the creation of a “digital copyright exchange,” which would simplify the way researchers buy the rights for various materials, according to Reuters.

“By freeing up the intellectual property copyright system... we help consumers, we help business and we help the pursuit of knowledge,” Business Secretary Vince Cable said at a news conference.

Furthermore, the new copyright laws will allow certain uses of “orphan works,” whose copyright owners cannot be tracked down. (What if the authors are no longer alive, for example, or the journal no longer exists?) The new laws should make it much easier for researchers to acquire the background materials they need to support their own work, and news of the change was welcomed by UK’s Research Councils and other funding organizations. "The rich data sets and their explanations in the scientific literature that are produced by researchers hold a tremendous intellectual value," Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council director Douglas Kell said in a statement. "Many of them have also been paid for from the public purse."