New copyright rules needed for AI era argue Google, Microsoft

Tech giants push for new legal protections for text and data mining

Australia’s copyright regime may act as a fetter on local research into artificial intelligence, Google and Microsoft argue.

The federal government is currently soliciting proposals for Australian copyright law reform, including the potential introduction of new exceptions to copyright.

Australian copyright law currently lacks the broad ‘fair use’ exception found in some other jurisdictions, such as the US. Instead the Copyright Act includes a number of limited ‘fair dealing’ provisions — for research or satire, for example — as well as a number of other legal protections, such as the recently expanded safe harbour regime.

The government in March issued a discussion paper seeking views on further copyright reform, including the potential expansion of the fair dealing regime or the introduction of fair use.

The “extent to which AI will be able to be developed in Australia is in doubt” because of the nation’s copyright regime, according to Google’s response to the discussion paper.

AI depends “not only on having large sets of data and information to analyse, but also on making copies of those data sets as part of the process of training the algorithms,” Google argued.

“In many cases these data sets include material protected by copyright. This can pose significant barriers to the development of AI in countries like Australia which have only inflexible and prescriptive exceptions in their copyright laws.”

The company cites Google Translate as an example of a product able to be developed in the US “due to the innovative opportunities afforded by fair use”.

The introduction of fair use was also supported by Telstra in its submission to the consultation. Fair use is “an important (and essential) step towards modernising Australia’s copyright arrangements,” the telco argued.

Microsoft in its submission argued that Australia should introduce an exception explicitly permitting text and data mining (TDM) of copyright works. The tech company said that it would support either an express exception for text and data mining or a broader fair use provision.

“There is very little connection between copyright and TDM, just as copyright has never controlled how people read books and do research,” Microsoft argued.

“With TDM, it may be necessary to make copies of information to train the artificial intelligence and allow it to analyze this material to look for patterns, relationships, and insights. These copies are not read by humans, nor are they consumed or redistributed for their creative expression, so they don’t substitute for the original articles or subscriptions.”

There is some legal uncertainty around TDM because of Australia’s current copyright laws, Microsoft said.

The company argued: “A broad TDM exemption, available to all, removes legal ambiguity around TDM and helps to unlock the potential for innovative research by both public and private sector, and encourages startups, businesses, and private researchers to embrace text and data mining projects, both independently and via public-private collaborations.”

Earlier this year Deloitte Access Economics released a Google-commissioned report that argued Australia’s digital economy could be worth $139 billion by 2020, but realising its full potential required intellectual property reform — including the introduction of fair use.

The introduction of fair use has  been backed by the Productivity Commission and the Australian Law Reform Commission.

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Tags copyrightMicrosoftGoogleTelstraintellectual propertyfair use

More about Access EconomicsAustraliaAustralian Law Reform CommissionDeloitteGoogleMicrosoftProductivity Commission

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