European science organisations have raised the alarm over a European Union committee's proposal that could force academics to pay or seek permission when quoting from colleagues’ work.
The warning is a sign that researchers are getting caught up in the copyright battles ongoing between the European Union and US tech giants such as Google.
Under controversial plans set out last year by the European Commission, news publishers would get extra rights over their content, potentially giving them the right to charge companies such as Google for displaying article snippets in search engine results.
Now a key committee of the European Parliament, the Industry, Research and Energy Committee, wants to amend the proposals so that these rights would also cover publishers of academic research.
According to Marie Timmermann, EU legislation and regulatory affairs officer at Science Europe, which represents 43 research funders and organisations across the continent, “if that goes through it's a nightmare for open access and open science”.
Researchers “might have to pay, or might at least have to ask for permission”, every time they want to quote another academic’s work in their piece, she said.
“If the proposed ancillary right is extended to academic publications, researchers, students and other users of scientific and scholarly journal articles could be forced to ask permission or pay fees to the publisher for including short quotations from a research paper in other scientific publications,” according to an open letter from Science Europe.
But even if this latest amendment is not adopted – it is not currently supported by the European Commission, which provides an exemption for academic publications – the wider plan could still make it much harder for everyone, including researchers, to include quotations from news articles in their work, the organisation fears. For example, students might have to buy a licence for every newspaper quote they use in a thesis, Ms Timmermann said.
According to the letter, “links to news and the use of titles, headlines and fragments of information could now become subject to licensing. Terms could make the last two decades of news less accessible to researchers and the public, leading to a distortion of the public’s knowledge and memory of past events.” The European Commission did not respond on record to the concerns of Science Europe.
The wider context is that the EU wants to protect news publishers’ revenues by making it easier for them to recoup some of their costs when parts of their articles are used online by companies like Google.
Germany and Spain have both passed laws that are somewhat similar to this latest EU-wide proposal. But in Spain, Google simply scrapped its Google News service, while in Germany, major publishers waived their right to licensing fees after suffering a drop in traffic from Google.
The final form of the directive should be agreed upon by EU institutions next year, Ms Timmermann said, and would then come into force a year later.