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The European Commission has announced long-awaited plans to make it easier for researchers to harvest facts and data from research papers — by freeing the computer-aided activity from the shackles of copyright law.

Software can rapidly analyse millions of online articles and data sets at speeds humans can’t match, an activity known as text and data mining (TDM). Scientists hope that this could reveal patterns in scientific knowledge and generate new hypotheses.

But the field has been hampered by uncertainties about the legality of sifting through science publishers’ content to crunch the data. In the European Union, this sort of activity requires the permission of a paper’s copyright holder. To crawl across paywalled content, would-be miners have had to go through the laborious process of asking various publishers for approval. And publishers have sometimes refused to allow TDM (apparently out of fear that paywalled content might be freely redistributed), or have only permitted it with restrictions, controlled licenses or fees.  A 2014 reportfor the European Commission suggested that Europe’s researchers were doing less computer crawling than those in the United States and Asia.

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