European Parliament demands copyright rules that allow cultural heritage institutions to share collections online

23 June 2015 Comment

Last week the Legal Affairs committee (JURI) of the European Parliament held a much anticipated vote on the European Parliament's own initiative report on the implementation of the 2001 EU copyright directive. This was an important vote as it dealt with the more than 500 amendments proposed by various MEPs (each amendment is a proposal to change a part of a report). From here, a final report will be issued following the concluding vote of the European Parliament Plenum to be held on the 9th July.


Zitting van het Engelse Hogerhuis, 1689. Image: Rijksmuseum, Public Domain.

Back in March, we highlighted some of the amendments that had the potential to improve the draft report so that it would better reflect the issues that cultural heritage institutions have with the current EU copyright framework. At the time our main concern was that the report neither explicitly addressed the question of mass digitisation nor the question of rights clearance for making digitised collections available online.

Based on this analysis we developed an approach for working with MEPs that was based on three main requests. The report should include language that would:

  • allow cultural heritage institutions to digitise the works that they have in their collections;
  • allow cultural heritage institutions to make available online on their own websites those works in their collections that are not in commercial circulation or otherwise actively managed anymore;
  • allow libraries to electronically lend all works contained in their collections (commercially available or not) as long as they pay compensation to the rights holders.

Three out of three

Over the last few months we have worked with MEPs to table amendments to the original report that would include these demands in the final report and get them to understand the importance of these issues (and as a result to vote for them). As a result of this work, which was supported by individual Network members and coordinated with other groups like EBLIDA, LIBER and IFLA, the final report as adopted by the Legal Affairs Committee on Tuesday 16th June now contains sections that deal with the three issues we had raised.

Paragraph 55 addresses the issue of digitisation of collections:

55. Calls upon the Commission to assess the adoption of an exception allowing libraries to digitalise (sic!) content for the purposes of consultation, cataloguing and archiving;

Paragraph 39, while not directly reflecting our proposal, clearly makes the point that cultural heritage institutions need the right to provide access to their collections online:

39. Considers it necessary to strengthen exceptions for institutions of public interest, such as libraries, museums and archives, in order to promote wide-ranging access to cultural heritage, including through online platforms;

And paragraph 54 proposes the introduction of an exception to copyright that would allow libraries to electronically lend books that they have in their collections:

54. Recognizes the importance of libraries for access to knowledge and calls upon the Commission to assess the adoption of an exception allowing public and research libraries to legally lend works to the public in digital formats for personal use, for a limited duration through the internet or libraries' networks, so that their public interest duty of disseminating knowledge can be fulfilled effectively and in an up-to-date manner; recommends that authors should be fairly compensated for e-lending to the same extent as this is the case for the lending of physical books according to national territorial restrictions;

In addition the Legal Affairs committee also adopted with a large majority an amendment to protect the public domain that supports Europeana's position that what is in the public domain in analogue form is also in the public domain after having been digitised:

31. Calls on the Commission to effectively safeguard public domain works, which are by definition not subject to copyright protection; therefore urges the Commission to clarify that once a work is in the public domain, any digitisation of the work which does not constitute a new, transformative work, stays in the public domain;

All in all we feel that we have done a very good job at ensuring that the concerns of cultural heritage institutions are well reflected in the report. Whilst there were amendments with stronger wording and more precise language with regards to the issue of providing online access to collections, the current form of the report is an important milestone on the way towards new EU copyright rules that allow cultural heritage institutions to properly function in the digital environment.


What next?

The report will now be voted in the plenary meeting of the European Parliament on 9th July and, given that it was adopted with a 23 - 2 majority, it is almost certain that it will be approved there as well. As an ‘own initiative’ report it will not result in any direct legislative changes - but it does provide some guidelines to the European Commission which is currently working on a proposal for new EU copyright rules. By adopting the the Reda report with such a clear majority the EP has given the commission a clear indication of what it expects to see and that includes copyright rules that allow cultural heritage institutions make more of their collections available online.

In order to get the upcoming proposal signed into law the Commission needs the support of both the European Parliament and the member states. Ensuring that this happens requires our continued attention. Our focus is to keep an open dialogue with the Commision to ensure that these issues are understood and taken into account in upcoming legislative proposals.

It will also be important to raise these issues with member state governments as no change in European law is possible without their approval. This task of informing member states is something that requires the support of as many members of the Europeana Network as possible. If you want to contribute to this please get in touch with us via julia.fallon@europeana.eu.