Comment

How and why the EU’s Data Act will have an impact beyond European borders

Catherine Stihler / Jun 2022

European Union, 2022

 

You would be forgiven for thinking that EU policy and politics doesn’t travel. That’s perhaps truer in the past than now, given progress of the European Union (EU) legislative and regulatory drive to create an EU fit for the digital age. One particular piece of this - the Data Act - has been occupying policy makers in Brussels as the latest installment in the EU’s overall data strategy, first presented in 2020. It might all seem like wonky details where the effects on daily life are hard to see. But at Creative Commons (CC), we’ve been paying ever closer attention as these new data regulations have been taking shape, knowing they will have an impact far beyond the EU’s geographical borders.

Why are we paying such close attention? Data is now at the core of modern life, as we humans and our machines generate ever greater pools of information that is then used to shape our world: to explain our circumstances, to make our decisions, and to predict our futures. With its Data Act, the EU is becoming a global leader in regulating how data is shared, processed, stored, used, and protected.

CC is heartened to see the Data Act take shape with clear benefits to the public interest, supporting conditions for a fair, innovative, and interoperable data economy, but also empowering citizens to access, use, and control data. We especially welcome the Act’s focus on data interoperability, which enables the EU to establish standards that support public interest principles and values, which can help set the stage for compatible policies around the world.

At CC, we are focused on our mission to ensure people can share knowledge and culture openly to address the world’s greatest challenges and build deeper common understanding. While sharing original and creative works made by humans is essential to that mission, sharing data is also crucial in building a healthy commons. In science, new hypotheses and conclusions are made stronger when shared with their supporting data. In technology, data generated by machines can fuel innovation when it is not locked in proprietary silos. In culture, shared data can generate creativity that we’ll never see if access is blocked. In daily life, people must be able to know what data they generate, how it is captured, and how they can direct its use. At CC, we do not call for sharing just for sharing’s sake. We champion what we call better sharing: sharing to improve the world following practices that empower and enable everyone.

A detail of the Data Act resonates with us deeply: We strongly support the clarification in Article 35 that the existing sui generis database right (EU Database Directive 96/9/EC) does not apply to machine-generated data. We believe that there is no evidence that the sui generis right fosters innovation or enhances competition, but rather that it creates an enclosure of the information commons and hinders open access efforts. Our firm view is that the EC should not introduce new exclusive rights over data; should repeal the sui generis database right and withdraw the right for future cases; and should improve access to and use of protected databases. CC thus supports Article 35 of the Data Act, which clarifies that the sui generis database right does not apply to machine-generated data, like data from the internet of things (IoT) or data generated by connected products.

We recognize how hard it is to craft appropriate policy for something as complex, fluid and transnational as data and all the ways it may be used. With its current Data Act, we believe the EU has taken critical steps to ensure the public interest isn’t overlooked in new policy that can serve as an inspiration to policymakers everywhere.

CC was delighted to be in Brussels recently to convene a roundtable discussion on data legislation in the EU, bringing together policymakers with representatives from civil society and the corporate world. Our takeaway from that conversation was that we will only succeed in enabling better sharing if all these interests work together to ensure open data is a reality — not just for a few, but for all.

So next time you wonder how far the EU’s reach is when it comes to interest in its regulatory developments, look no further than the other side of the world!

 

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Catherine Stihler

Catherine Stihler

June 2022

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