#HumansOfCopyright: Maarten Lambrechts, Freelance Data Journalist
Maarten Lambrechts is one of a new breed of journalists who tease out stories from large quantities of data by analysing it with a variety of digital tools. This approach is generally known as text and data mining, since it views collections of text and data files as a kind of “ore” containing more valuable material in the form of the underlying patterns and trends lurking within. However, data journalism is now under threat in the EU because of Article 3 of the proposed Copyright Directive, which will severely limited how text and data mining can be carried out by professional journalists. The interview took place at the ‘Humans Of Copyright – Real Life Stories‘ event in March 2018.
GM: Could you please introduce yourself and your work?
ML: I am a freelance data journalist and data visualisation consultant. I used to work as a data journalist at the Belgian newspapers De Tijd and L’Echo: they are twin newspapers, one in Flemish, one in French. At the beginning of last year I turned freelance, and now I’m doing all kinds of data visualisation work, but also data journalism. So I try to find stories in large datasets and databases, and then I tell these stories by combining text with charts and maps.
GM: Could you say a little more about how data journalism differs from the traditional kind?
ML: In traditional journalism, the sources might be documents, or might be experts, or might be witnesses. But nowadays we have also data as a source. It’s a new way of doing journalism by using data as a source, extracting stories from data, and then telling the stories that are hidden in the data.
GM: How important is text and data mining to your work?
ML: It’s really important, because in everything that we do, we transform data and we try to extract information from the data by mining the data. We try to expose the information that is hidden in big amounts of data. In order to do so, you have to process the data, and you have to mine the data.
GM: So what are your concerns about the Copyright Directive from that viewpoint?
ML: I wasn’t really aware that my work might be affected by this new copyright law. The problem apparently is that text and data mining would be illegal if you do it for commercial purposes [without permission]. In journalism we do these things to make money, obviously. It might be the case that what we do is simply illegal, or we have to ask for permission. So when we do this data mining we might need to ask permission from whoever publishes the data.
GM: What effect might that have on investigations by data journalists?
ML: In some cases, we might not have the rights to just process the data, and in some cases it might require lawyers to be involved. Or it could take a much longer time to do the investigation. So in a lot of ways this can affect our work in a negative way.
GM: What would you like to see happen?
ML: There is an exception in the proposed law that says that you can use text and data mining for commercial purposes if you are a researcher. So in my view there should also be this exception for data journalists.
Featured CC0 image by Delmi Alvarez.