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unsteady construction? building a European data economy

20 January 2017

The EU Commission has recently published its communication and accompanying staff working document entitled 'Building a European Data Economy'.

The paper builds on the foundation of the digital single market and suggests solutions to a perceived problem that Europe is not fully exploiting the potential of data for business, research and innovation purposes.

The Commission confirms that a wide ranging stakeholder dialogue will be conducted on the following issues: free flow of data across organisations within the EU; access and transfer in relation to machine-generated data; liability and safety in the context of emerging technologies; and data portability and interoperability.

The overall conclusion is that a policy and legal framework is needed to drive the data economy which focuses on removing barriers to data movement, addressing legal uncertainties, increasing the availability and use of data through data analytics and allowing new data business models to emerge.

This conclusion and some of the specific proposals have been criticised, including the proposal for the creation of a legal right for data producers to exploit data, the introduction of default contractual rules on the use of data and a requirement for open access to B2B data.

Critics argue that the Commission’s approach will only stifle and add uncertainty into the European data economy. The view is that increased regulation would fetter natural market forces and there are existing protocols that govern the value of and investment in data. In particular, critics state that organisations are already able to deal with a number of the issues posed through contractual negotiations and argue that the Commission has failed to demonstrate that there is even a problem to solve.

The Commission claims that it is only offering potential solutions to improve the exploitation of data. However, its favouring of increased policy and legal regulation to achieve this are likely to be the focus of much debate during the stakeholder dialogue, the results of which will likely shape the evolution of the EU data economy.

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