Today, Europeana published an open letter to Commissioner Oettinger in which the directors of ++Dutch institutionsIncluding the directors of the Koninklijke Bibliotheek, the Nationaal Archief, the Rijksmuseum, Naturalis and Beeld en Geluid. demand a reform of the European copyright rules that would allow their institutions to make more of their collections available online. This letter comes in response to the Commission’s intention to review parts of the existing copyright rules to make sure that copyright functions within the Digital Single Market. Kennisland is working with Europeana on its advocacy effort to improve the copyright rules applying to cultural heritage institutions and has been involved in drafting the letter.
The letter (which can be signed by additional institutions here), argues that their institutions are hindered by the fact that the existing exceptions and limitations benefitting their organisations have not evolved with the ways that citizens access and engage with cultural content:
Europe’s public cultural heritage institutions are key to influencing and shaping our lives with unrivalled access to information, culture and our shared history. They promote knowledge, education, research and encourage the creation of new culture.
Ways to share and engage with cultural content have been transformed in a digital age, but limitations in current European copyright rules restrict that full potential. As a result, our institutions contain large collections established and cared for using public funds but they cannot be made easily available to the public online.
The letter continues by pointing out that in its evaluation report of the InfoSoc directive, the European parliament has demanded more room for cultural heritage institutions to make their collections available online. In line with the demands made by the European Parliament the letter asks for and update to the EU copyright rules that would make it easier for cultural heritage institutions to provide onlineInstitutions are hindered by the fact that the existing exceptions and limitations benefitting their organisations have not evolved with the ways that citizens access and engage with cultural content. access to ++Out-of-commerce worksWhen it comes to clearing rights for making collections available online, works that are not commercially available or otherwise actively managed pose the biggest problems. Rights holders of such works are often difficult to identify and often lack an the incentive to give permission. Where works are in commercial circulation or are actively managed (for example by a collecting society) obtaining permission for online use is relatively straightforward.:
Let us be clear, when we ask for copyright rules that allow us to fully represent our collections online, we are not asking for rules that undermine the ability of creators, publishers or other intermediaries to earn a living from their creativity. We want the ability to provide online access to those works in our collections that are not actively exploited by their creators or subsequent rights holders. Improving online access to works that are not available via other channels helps promote creators whilst encouraging new creative activity.
[…] A copyright system that locks away large parts of our collections in museums or confines them to physical archives and libraries, that are not always easy to reach, benefits no one.
[…] We call on the European Commission to address these concerns in the upcoming legislative proposal on copyright. As recommended by the European Parliament in July, the proposal needs to include updates to the existing exceptions benefitting libraries, archives and museums. Those updates should allow our institutions to provide online access to our collections that are not actively managed or available via commercial channels, without having to obtain permission from the rights holders.
The letter comes at a time when the Commission has started to signal that online access to out-of-commerce works held by cultural heritage institutions may be part of what it considers ‘a targeted copyright modernisation’. With this letter we are hoping to present a nuanced proposal that should meet the criteria laid out by the Commission in recent weeks.
In his speech at the Frankfurt Book Fair earlier this month Commissioner Oettinger stressed the need to ‘preserve the incentive to the publisher to invest as well as the safeguard for the authorCopyright rules restricting access to works that are not actively exploited by their rights holders benefit no one.‘. As the letter points out, copyright rules restricting access to works that are not actively exploited by their rights holders benefit no one and allowing cultural heritage institutions to make these works available will not take away anyone’s incentive to invest and create. It will, however, open new possibilities for researchers and educators and enrich the lives of people interested in culture all across the continent.