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2 minutes to read Posted on Friday June 13, 2014

Updated on Thursday July 19, 2018

Overcoming copyright hurdles for audiovisual heritage

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This report by Erwin Verbruggen on the recent EUscreenXL Strategic Workshop on IPR Issues for the Audiovisual Domain appeared earlier on the all-things-copyright-related 1709 blog. EUscreenXL is a best practice network involving European audiovisual and broadcasting archives. EUscreenXL aligns audiovisual collections throughout Europe and connects them with Europeana. Follow all EUscreenXL activities at Verbruggen works as project lead at the Research and Development department of the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision, where he is involved in issues of digital access and preservation of audiovisual archives.

The EUscreenXL Strategic Workshop on IPR Regulations for Audiovisual Heritage. Credit: Quirijn Backx CC BY-SA.


Access to Audiovisual Collections

A special kind of care is required to ensure that the sounds and images stored on music cassettes, video tapes and film survive the ages. Making them accessible requires a firm understanding of copyright rules and regulations. At conferences that involve audiovisual (AV) heritage (such as a 1918 version of Puss in Boots, a 1979 St. Patrick’s Parade or cameras tilting through landscapes past) one could interrupt any ongoing conversation by saying: ´but what about the copyright?´ and leave the participants struggling for a clear idea.

A plethora of laws and exceptions apply to audiovisual materials. The creation of a product always involves a large number of people. In the lifetime of its existence, companies may have changed hands and contracts may have been lost or been unclear from the beginning. Or perhaps the product was never intended for use in a digital environment. EUscreenXL is a network of audiovisual archives and public broadcasters all around Europe. Their mutual goal is to explore the different ways in which archives can make their holdings accessible. Recently, copyright lawyer and fervent  blogger Eleonora Rosati was the guest of honour at a project workshop that explored how the network could contribute to copyright debates and improve the accessibility of audiovisual heritage materials online.
The EUscreen portal makes accessible a number of film and video content that covers a range of events, culture, folklore, everyday life and news items from Europe’s history. The project explores new ways of contextualising historical film and video. It provides them with unified and clear background information and makes them appealing to various kinds of users: researchers, educators, web surfers and the creative industries. The project also aims to bring broadcasters and audiovisual collections closer to Europeana by promoting the platform and growing the network.
Access in Europe
Moving images are a massively important source for the way we see ourselves and our history. US-based librarian Marion Stokes understood this when she decided to dedicate a big part of her life to videotaping all 24-hour news channels from her own home. Broadcasters and archives have also come to learn the value of their archival 
holdings. Audiovisual archives store moving materials from different times and ages, a careful undertaking that requires precise and safe storage conditions and up-to-speed digitisation methods. Once digitised, it’s an archive’s task to bring the content back to life by making them accessible to the public. Inherently, that undertaking involves the possibility of overstepping the boundaries of copyright law.
EUscreenXL is funded by the European Commission and one of the tasks of this network, covering close to every EU member state, is to explore how we can increase and beef up the availability of audiovisual heritage resources on the World Wide Web. An estimated 11,4 million hours of moving image materials[1] are kept safely in vaults. Many of these have been digitised over the past decade, but this task is far from complete. Even fewer are accessible for general audiences. Initiatives pile up: the EUscreen portal, the European Film Gateway, archives such as Italian Cinecittá Luce that  experiment with YouTube channels. The workshop focused on the question: what can we, as a mixed group of rights holders, heritage keepers, and public media participants, do to propagate a wider availability of audiovisual materials online? And why is so little of our audiovisual heritage findable online for users and creative industries?
There are a number of ongoing activities at the EU level that are of importance for archives across the continent. EUscreenXL reported on the final licences for Europe, which had mixed outcomes for the audiovisual sector. The consortium also formulated a response to the recent EC’s consultation on copyright. EUscreenXL consists of a wide range of stakeholders that share a public mission: to inform and entertain the public of their respective nations. Yet all of them increasingly have to find ways to fund their production or preservation activities by making use of the assets that their archives hold. For some, this means that copyrights contribute to part of their income, and free access can be a potential danger to their livelihoods. Questions such as how long after an author’s death copyright should stay in place thus strike a nerve. As presenter Francisco Cabrera reminded us: the stakes for copyright are all a matter of perspective. The outlook always depends on who you ask, and from which angle you approach. For instance, the discussion about the extension of terms. 
The EUscreenXL Strategic Workshop on IPR Regulations for Audiovisual Heritage. Credit: Quirijn Backx CC BY-SA.
No sooner said than done?
Eleonora Rosati put it aptly: bringing audiovisual works online is rarely (if ever) no sooner said than done. Europe, with its fragmented character, is tricky terrain to explore for archives in the digital realm. What is allowed in country A oversteps the rules of country B and so forth. The workshop participants enthusiastically embraced the image she borrowed from Prof. Bernt Hugenholtz  that Article 5 of the InfoSoc directive serves as a sort of ´shopping list´ of exceptions member states can choose from. Krisztina Rozgonyi presented a solution on a national level that led to the creation of Hungary’s national audiovisual archive, thanks to a media law policy developed over 10 years ago. By means of secure VPN connections and established entry points in combination with a legal deposit regulation, it allows audiovisual archives to give unlimited, certified access to the nations’ television and film history to schools and educators.
To harmonise or not to harmonise?
The workshop gave the participants a chance to discuss the parameters that could or should be moved to make this navigating a more manageable task, and who should provoke and guide the change. Discussing solutions resulted in various approaches. Some participants firmly believe in extending the country of origin principle.[2] Coming from the broadcast world, where the satellite directive has been a starting point for discussions about cross-domain access, the European Broadcasting Union’s advocacy group firmly stands for the clarity of this sort of ruling. It is wary of the possibility that a full harmonisation could lead to a common law that is the narrowest of possible understandings, instead of taking up the widest understanding, and prefers that every member state is left to their own, more or less liberal, rulings. On the broad, general question as to whether or not a new copyright declaration should be pushed for, the general answer was that such an undertaking would at least take us 20 –30 years, well beyond the project term of EUscreenXL.
It may well be beyond our project horizon, but the material once carefully crafted by AV professionals and now responsibly taken care of by archive specialists, might still benefit. After all, this is what we hope to keep alive for 30, or 100, or 500 years from now. So we’ll continue the discussion on how this network and the audiovisual archives in it can improve access to their collections while balancing the needs of creators, the billing departments and the audience.
1. According to a 2008 study: Klijn, Edwin, and Yola de Lusenet. Tracking the Reel World: A Survey of Audiovisual Collections in Europe. Amsterdam: European Commission on Preservation and Access, 2008.