[open-science] text-mining restrictions - a plea for more information

Peter Murray-Rust pm286 at cam.ac.uk
Sun Apr 17 18:07:04 UTC 2011

On Sun, Apr 17, 2011 at 3:38 PM, Vision, Todd J <tjv at bio.unc.edu> wrote:

> Peter's draft whitepaper on text-mining is badly needed and nicely put.  I
> was particularly interested in this passage:
> "The provision of journal articles is controlled not only by copyright but
> also (for most scientists) the contracts signed by the institution. These
> contracts are usually not public. We believe (from anecdotal evidence) that
> there are clauses forbidding the use of systematic machine crawling of
> articles, even for legitimate scientific purposes."

Thank you very much for giving me further encouragement.

> We have also heard tell of the existence of such clauses, but also have not
> been able to secure first-hand evidence for them.  It would be very nice to
> promote this from "anecdotal" to "documented", and I would like here to put
> out a wider plea for anyone who might be able to provide the language of
> these contractual retrictions.  Alternatively, I would welcome suggestions
> for how we are to know what exactly we are prohibited from doing in light of
> the confidential nature of the contracts.
> I will take the decidely unscientific step of assuming that this is
indepdnent confirmation and that we should take this further.

> If copyright holders really wish to enforce such restrictions, it seems odd
> that their very existence is little more than a rumor. Can secret
> restrictions be legally enforced?

IANAL but I think this depends on the legal jurisdiction. We continually
hear of contracts in many areas of activity vwhere part of the contract is
that details may not be disclosed, so I expect it is legal. However I don't
know whether such gagging clauses are actually in force or whether not many
people are sufficiently interested to tell us.

So there is one legal way to find out and I think it's appropriate. Before
doing it it would be very useful to have more confirmation, as if this is
well known I don't want to waste poeple's time.

So, please, can we have rapid responses to this question before I (amd
possibly others) start stirring things yet again...


Peter Murray-Rust
Reader in Molecular Informatics
Unilever Centre, Dep. Of Chemistry
University of Cambridge
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