UK wants to boost AI development by removing obstacles to data mining – TechCrunch

The UK plans to amend an existing law to allow text and data mining “for any purpose”, in a move designed to boost the development of artificial intelligence (AI) across the country.

The Announcement is part of a broader strategy to “level up” AI and transforming the UK into what it calls a “global AI superpower” – and part of this will involve reassessing existing intellectual property rights (IP). After a period of two months consultation period where stakeholders from across the industry spectrum were asked for input, including rights holders, academics, lawyers, trade associations and businesses, the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO) released its response today, confirming what will and will not change in the future.


Text and data mining (TDM) is crucial for the development of new AI applications, allowing researchers and companies to copy and use disparate data sets to train their algorithms. However, gaining access to enough relevant data comes with inherent challenges: the data is often owned by third parties who may wish to make data available under a commercial license only, if at all.

Back in 2014the UK has amended its existing TDM regulations – which are related to the wider Copyright, designs and patents (1988) — to include an “exception” that allows AI researchers to use third-party data for non-commercial purposes without incurring significant costs. However, this still placed significant restrictions on how to use the data and discouraged companies from investing in AI development. In addition, it did not extend to database permissionswhich is different from works subject to traditional copyright law.

Today’s announcement essentially fixes this. The UK government is now planning to introduce a TDM exception that covers any purpose well beyond research and academia, with no opt-out for rights holders. In addition, it also contains provisions on database rights.

This is contrary to the comparable European Union (EU) Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market, which only provides a mandatory exception for TDM in the scientific research domain. Indeed, rightholders can exclude their copyrighted work from commercial use cases, meaning they can still monetize TDM.

The UK’s proposed changes could be an important part of the announced “levelling” plans, as access to AI training data is a major stumbling block for all but the largest companies. But more than that, it seems the point here is to lure AI companies to the UK, knowing they have more freedom to do text and data mining. This is especially important in a UK now in direct competition with the EU following its departure from the bloc in 2020, as it acknowledges in today’s published response:

These changes take full advantage of the increased flexibility after Brexit. They will help make the UK more competitive as a location for data mining companies.

The Brexit effect

This new exception to copyright and database rights, which the government plans to enshrine in “appropriate legislation” in due course, is effectively shifting the balance of power away from rights holders and heavily towards corporations and other commercial entities. But the transition could have unintended consequences, some say. Under the proposed new rules, the data miner must still obtain the data legally, meaning it must be publicly available (for example, as part of a subscription). So rightsholders who previously charged TDM as part of a data licensing model may instead withhold their data altogether, which could have adverse effects on AI development in the future.

“On the one hand, this decision could be seen as an enabler for AI development, but on the other, it could lead to copyright holders being encouraged to impose more restrictions on their content,” Richard Johnson, partner at European IP law firm Mewburn Ellis, told TechCrunch in a statement.

It’s worth noting that rightholders still have some rights of their own under the new rules, in terms of where they choose to publish their data or copyrighted works, and they can still charge for access to that data. They will only “no longer be able to charge specifically UK licenses for TDM”, and they will not be able to enforce any form of opt-out – any entity that legally has access to the data can mine it.

Status quo

The UK government’s response published today is not only remarkable for what is changing with text and data mining, but also for what is not change. At the heart of the consultation was the question of whether computer-generated works (CGWs) without a human author should continue to be protected under copyright – the UK is actually one of the few countries to grant copyright protection to CGWs, with a 50-year protection period in place (this compared to 70 years for human-generated works).

While the UK sought input on whether the protection period should be changed or removed altogether, it finally decided: not to change something, noting that the existing safeguards around CGWs were not “harmful” and that the use of AI is still in its relative infancy. “We will keep an eye on the law and may change, replace or remove the protection in the future if the evidence supports it,” the response said.

Likewise, the UK has also decided that AI systems still can’t granted patents for inventionsdespite some early moves in that direction in a number of jurisdictions around the world. The main reasons it cited were that AI is not yet advanced enough to “invent” without significant human input — a legal view shared by most countries. In its response to the consultation, the UK said it was reluctant to deviate too much from “international standards” on inventing.

“This may be seen by some as a missed opportunity, but the commitment to active engagement in building international consensus is very positive to see,” Johnson said. “From an end-user perspective, it would be undesirable for the IP landscape to be fragmented at this point. The government’s response is therefore consistent with many of the court rulings in this area in that it recognizes the potential for change in the future, but avoids any immediate action.”

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