Last month, Authors Alliance submitted detailed comments in response to the Copyright Office’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in support of our petition to expand the existing Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) exemptions that enable text and data mining (TDM) as part of this year’s §1201 rulemaking cycle.
To recap: our expansion petitions ask the Copyright Office to modify the existing TDM exemption so that researchers who assemble corpora of ebooks or films on which to conduct text and data mining are able to share that corpus with other academic researchers, where this second group of researchers qualifies under the exemption. Under the current exemption, academic researchers are only able to share their corpora with other qualified researchers for purposes of “collaboration and verification.” This simple change would eliminate the need for duplicative efforts to remove digital locks from ebooks and films, a time and resource-intensive process, broadening the group of academic researchers who are able to use the exemption.
Our comment argues that the existing TDM exemption has begun to enable valuable digital humanities research and teaching, but that the proposed expansion would go much further towards enabling this research and helping TDM researchers reach their goals. The comment is accompanied by 13 letters of support from researchers, educators, and funding organizations, highlighting the research that has been done in reliance on the exemption, and explaining why this expansion is necessary. Our thanks go out to our stellar clinical team at UC Berkeley’s Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic—law students Mathew Cha and Zhudi Huang, and clinical supervisor Jennifer Urban—for writing and submitting this comment on our behalf. We are also grateful to our co-petitioners, the Library Copyright Alliance and American Association of University Professors, for their support on this comment.
Ambiguity in “Collaboration”
One reason the expansion is necessary is the uncertainty over what constitutes “collaboration” under the existing exemption. Researchers have open questions about what level of individual contribution to a project would make researchers “collaborators” under the exemption. As our comment explains, collaboration can come in a number of different forms, from “formal collaborations under the auspice of a grant, [to] ad hoc collaborations that result from two teams discovering that they are working on similar material to the same ends, or even discussions at conferences between members of a loose network of scholars working on the same broad set of interests.” But it is not clear which of these activities is “collaboration” for the purposes of the exemption. And this uncertainty has had a chilling effect on the socially valuable research made possible by the exemption.
Costly Corpora Creation
Our comment also highlights the vast costs that go into creating a usable corpus for TDM research. Institutions whose researchers are conducting TDM research pursuant to the exemption must lawfully own the works in question, or license them through a license that is not time-limited. But these costs pale in comparison to the required computing resources—a cost which is compounded by the exemption’s strict security requirements—and human labor involved in bypassing technical protection measures and assembling a corpus. Moreover, it’s important to recognize that there is simply not a tremendous amount of grant funding or even institutional support available to TDM researchers.
Because corpora are so costly to assemble and create, we believe it to be reasonable to permit researchers to share their corpora with researchers at other institutions who want to conduct independent TDM research on these corpora. As the exemption currently stands, researchers interested in pre-existing corpora must duplicate the efforts of the previous researchers, incurring massive costs along the way. We’ve already seen indications that these costs can lead researchers to avoid certain research questions and areas of study altogether. As our comment explains, this “duplicative circumvention” can be avoided by changing the language of the exemption to permit corpora sharing between qualified researchers at separate institutions.
Worse still, not all institutions are able to bear these expenses. Our comment explains how the current exemption’s prohibition on sharing beyond collaboration and verification—and consequent duplication of prior labor—-”create[s] barriers that can prevent smaller and less-well-resourced institutions from conducting TDM research at all.” This creates inequity in what type of institutions can support TDM projects, and what types of researchers can conduct them. The unfortunate result has been that large institutions that have “the resources to compensate and maintain technical staff and infrastructure” are able to support TDM research under the exemption, while smaller institutions are not.
Values of Corpora Sharing
Our comment explains how allowing limited sharing of corpora under the exemption would go a long way towards lowering barriers to entry for TDM research and ameliorating the equity issues described above. Since digital humanities is already an under-resourced field, the effects of enabling researchers to share their corpora with other academic researchers could be quite profound.
Researchers who wrote letters in support of the petition described a multitude of exciting projects, and have built “a rich set of corpora to study, such as a collection of fiction written by African American writers, a collection of books banned in the United States, and a curated corpus of movies and television with an ‘emphasis on racial, ethnic, sexual, and gender diversity.’” Many of those who wrote letters in support of our petition recounted requests they’ve gotten from other researchers to use their corpora, and who were frustrated that the exemption’s prohibition on non-collaborative sharing and their limited capacity for collaboration prevented them from sharing these corpora.
Allowing new researchers with new research questions to study these corpora could reveal new insights about these bodies of work. As we explain, “in the same way a single literary work or motion picture can evince multiple meanings based on the lens of analysis used, when different researchers study one corpus, they are able to pose different research questions and apply different methodologies, ultimately revealing new and original findings . . . . Enabling broader sharing and thus, increasing the number of researchers that can study a corpus, will allow a body of works to be better understood beyond the initial ‘limited set of research questions.’”
The 1201 rulemaking process for exemptions to DMCA § 1201’s prohibition on breaking digital locks requires that the proposed activity be a fair use. In the 2021 proceedings, the Office recognized TDM for research and teaching purposes as a fair use. Because the expansion we’re seeking is relatively minor, our comment explains that the types of uses we are asking the Office to permit researchers to make is also fair use. Our comment explains that each of the four fair use factors favor fair use in the context of the proposed expansion. We further explain why the enhanced sharing the expansion would provide does not harm the market for the original works under factor four: because institutions must lawfully own (or license under a non-time-limited license) the works that their researchers wish to conduct TDM on, it makes no difference from a market standpoint whether researchers bypass technical protection measures themselves, or share another institution’s corpus. Copyright holders are not harmed when researchers at one institution share a corpus created by researchers at another institution, since both institutions must purchase the works in order to be eligible under the exemption.
If there are parties that oppose our proposed expansion, they have until February 20th to submit opposition comments to the Copyright Office. Then, on March 19th, our reply comments to any opposition comments will be due. We will keep our readers and members apprised as the process continues to move forward.