The UK rolls back controversial plans to open up text and data mining regulations
The U.K. government is seemingly backtracking on plans that would have allowed text and data mining "for any purpose," plans designed to position the U.K. as a "global AI superpower."
The news emerges following months of blowback from creative industries concerned about what impact the rules might have on protected works.
Text and data mining, for the uninitiated, is an essential component of just about every AI application, allowing researchers and developers to leverage disparate datasets to train their algorithms. But gaining access to a sufficient amount of data is not a straightforward endeavor, given that data is often owned by organizations or individuals that might not want third-parties to have access to their data. Or, they may only make said data available under a commercial license, making it prohibitively expensive to harness.
The U.K., as with other countries, has long had regulations around text and data mining, constituting part of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act (1988). In 2014, the U.K. tweaked these regulations to include an "exception" that would allow AI researchers to use third-party data more freely for non-commercial purposes. Notably, these new rules still prevented commercial entities from using such data, which is why the U.K. wanted to remove such restrictions as a means to encourage commercial AI development.
After a two-month consultation period in 2021 that sought input from stakeholders including rightsholders, academics, lawyers, trade organisations and businesses, the U.K.'s Intellectual Property Office (IPO) revealed back in June that it would extend its existing exception far beyond the research and academia spheres, meaning that there would be no data mining opt-outs for rightsholders. In the months that followed, the music industry, publishers and other creative sectors voiced their concerns about what this might mean for copyrighted works.
In response to these concerns, Julia Lopez, Member of Parliament (MP) and Minister of State for Media, Data and Digital Infrastructure, said in November that the IPO had extended its consultation period, and that she was "fairly confident" that the plans would not proceed. Then last month, the House of Lords Communications Committee warned the Government about "undermining the U.K.'s creative industries," pointing to its GBP115 billion ($139 billion) pre-pandemic value.
Now, following a parliamentary debate on Wednesday, we have the clearest sign yet that the U.K. is set to roll-back its controversial plans.
Minister of State for Science, Research and Innovation George Freeman has said that the proposals as originally set out "were not correct," and that they didn't factor in enough input during the consultation period before the proposals were announced.
In response to one MP who asked what the current status was, Freeman said that "we will not be proceeding with the proposals," though he stressed that it all still had to go through formal processes before this becomes official. Notably, Freeman poured scorn on his predecessors for greenlighting the proposals in the first place, while pointing to recent political "turmoil" in the U.K. as one reason this all came to pass in the first place.
"I do not think I could be clearer that the two Ministers concerned [Lopez and Freeman] agree that the proposals submitted, approved and published did not meet with the expected support," Freeman said. "I hasten to say that they were published after I left Government, and it was a period of some turmoil. One of the lessons from this is to try not to legislate in periods of political turmoil."
Assuming that Freeman and Lopez's recent remarks can be taken at face value, what this means is that the U.K. government will go back to the drawing board with all the internal and external stakeholders to devise a regulatory framework that both protects the creative industries, while also supporting the U.K.'s aspirations as an "AI superpower."
"AI is coming at us as a transformational technology at a pace that we have not had to deal with before in Government," Freeman said. "The pace, the halving of technology cycles, and the speed at which it is maturing and reinventing itself are creating some big and interesting challenges for established industries, new industries that are taking shape and creators across all the different spheres of the creative industries. We need to get the balance right."