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2 minutes to read Posted on Wednesday March 23, 2016

Updated on Monday November 6, 2023

Meet the Members Council: Ellen Euler

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Hi! My name is Ellen. I love nature, museums, books, music, radio, films, sports, meeting people and I love children – especially my own three marvellous ones. Luckily for me, they share many of my interests. And like me, they love coloring the collection books of museums. As they put it: "Mummy, where do you get these pictures? In school they never give us these wonderful drawings!" And I thought to myself, "But they could, couldn’t they? That's one meaningful way to ‘transform the world with culture!’"

Some wonderful rhinos from Europeana's #ColourOurCollections colouring book. Image: The rhinoceros by Enea Vico, 1533-1567. Rijksmuseum, Public Domain

And beyond this, there is so much more one can do with the cultural wealth shared by heritage institutions via Europeana and national equivalents like the German ‘Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek’ which I work for. Let’s continue to forge cultural connections and our vivid European cultural identity!

How the current legal framework holds us back

I first came into contact with the prospects of digitizing and sharing our cultural heritage whilst organizing a conference on ‘Cultural memory in the digital age’ in 2004. But it remained a conference transcript: realising the vision and opportunities was prevented by a variety of factors. Many of these problems were solved in those early years, primarily the technical issues. But many were not: the goal of the cultural platforms in making our cultural heritage and treasures available online is still being hampered by the current legal framework and especially by the copyright rules.

Copyright may be useful within the exploitation chain of some works. Some people say this applies to about 2 – 4 % of the works. But apart from that – and especially for older works that are not commercially exploited any more but are still copyright protected – it's mostly harmful. Furthermore, copyright harms new business models that could bring new value to the works and their content. Last but not least, the existing copyright rules are harming our digital cultural heritage because we cannot re-use it in new creative ways.

We need change!

Only the rightholders have the opportunity to change this situation. Many do so and license their content with a free Creative Commons license which allows the author of a work to define how their works can be used by others. As the national project leader of the Creative Commons Licenses in 2004, I was responsible for the adaptation of the very first version of the CC licenses to the German national legal requirements. The Creative Commons licenses have since changed a lot, but unfortunately not to the advantage of the cultural heritage institutions who are usually not rightholders.

I then decided to investigate the legal framework in a more meaningful way and look at it from a cross domain and intermedia perspective. What are the problems the museums, archives, and libraries have to face in order to fulfill their public mission? Although cultural heritage institutions have safeguarded and preserved our cultural heritage and their mission is of public interest, they have had to face many uncertainties and legal challenges while carrying out their tasks under the newly changed conditions of the digital age.

Uncertainties regarding the legal status of older works must not impede heritage institutions in their work – work which is carried out for the public good and funded with public money. Nevertheless, because of the existing legal framework this is exactly what happens. In my legal PhD, I suggested a fair use exception for cultural heritage institutions referring to their public mission. I am convinced that this is still needed to boost our digital cultural memory in Europe.

My voice for the cultural heritage lobby

Ensuring that the voice of cultural heritage institutions across domains is heard in the discussion about a modernization of the legal framework is of great importance. The cultural heritage lobby is unfortunately very weak because lobbying is not one of the core tasks of cultural heritage institutions. Far from a general solution, we are currently dealing with special purpose solutions such as the orphan works directive. Needless to say: it hasn't really worked. (See more:

Copyright reform with regards to our digital cultural heritage is not about expropriation of rightholders but about ending a situation in which neither rightholders nor anyone else benefits and about ending the practice of copyright fraud, presumptions and fictional writing up of rights. All regulations that avoid right clearances and legal assessments as well as high transaction costs will boost large scale digitization and the chance to share our cultural heritage online.

An example of a record in Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek.

My mission? Let’s stand up for the rights of the cultural heritage institutions! Let us cut the Gordian Knot that is the current legal framework!

As a Councilor I will ensure that the various legal needs and requirements of the different CHIs in the governance and running of Europeana are heard and become more widely known amongst political and governmental stakeholders. And I want to thank you for your trust in me and your support!