An issue which recently has gained increased attention from legislators is how to stimulate the digitization and online availability of the collections held by libraries, museums and other cultural institutions – sometimes referred to as our “common heritage” – and at the same time give full respect to established copyright norms. At European level, this attention is evident in the Digital Libraries Initiative, the Communication from the European Commission on Copyright in the Knowledge Economy, the Commission’s Digital Agenda for Europe and its recent Communication on a Single Market for Intellectual Property Rights. Inherent in these policy documents is the recognition that the new information technologies have created vast opportunities to make the common heritage of Europe more accessible for users online. It is also a shared belief that such access – if coherent with basic copyright principles – will befor the mutual benefit of users, right holders and the society at large. In line with this the Commission has supported the creation and development of a common access point for Europe’s cultural heritage, Europeana.
However, several issues from a copyright perspective have to be solved before undertaking mass-digitization and online dissemination of the collections held by these institutions. One of them is how to make the said digitization and online dissemination lawful from a copyright perspective. To the extent that an item in a cultural institution’s collection is (still) protected by copyright, those acts fall under the author’s exclusive right to authorize and prohibit use of his or her work. As the administrative (“transaction”) costs of finding and negotiating an individual license with every right holder would rise to astronomical levels, there is an obvious risk that major parts of the collections will not be digitized and disseminated online. For this reason, the most practical solution would probably lie in the area of collective rights management.
A way forward is the extended collective license (ECL) model as established and developed in the Nordic countries. The essential component of the ECL model is that it extends a freely negotiated agreement between a Collective Management Organization (CMO) and a user so that it binds also non-members’ rights, sometimes referred to as “outsiders’ rights”. The legal implication of this extension effect is that the agreement not only gives the user the right to use outsider’s rights without any risk of civil remedies but that that it also provides full limitation against criminal sanctions.
To safeguard the outsiders’ interests, the legally supported extended effect only occurs provided that certain conditions have been met. These conditions are, mainly, outsiders’ possibility to opt out, equal treatment vis-à-vis members of the organization and receipt of remuneration. There are also conditions related to the representativeness and supervision of the eligible CMOs. The ECL model has been under consideration by the Commission as a possible solution to stimulate the digitization and online availability of the collections held by cultural institutions.
An additional challenge is to make the collections available cross-border, i.e. also to other countries (territories) than the one where the cultural institution is located. It is inherent in the policy documents of the European commission and also the establishment of Europeana that there is a clear political aim to stimulate such cross-border dissemination. According to prevalent copyright rules, rights for dissemination online have to be cleared in every country where the content can be accessed. Applied to cultural institutions this means that they would have to get a license from CMOs in every EU member state. This would of course lead to substantial administrative costs for the institutions. However, so far no solution have been brought forward which takes into account and could be acceptable by both cultural institutions and right holders.
Two viable cross-border solutions are a country of transmission principle or a solution based on voluntary measures by the national CMOs. A country of transmission principle holds that cultural institutions should only be obliged to obtain a license in the country where the institution initiated the online dissemination. This solution would require legislative intervention at EU level. The other solution essentially means that national CMOs would give each other a mandate to issue multi-territory licenses.
At first glance, an ECL provision combined with either of the cross-border solutions outlined above may be regarded as favoring the cultural institutions’ interests, as it gives them the privilege of both an ECL provision and a simplified measure for cross-border rights clearance. However, the scope of an ECL provision for the benefit of these institutions would primarily be to make available content that is not of a contemporary commercial nature. Hence, the model would aim at establishing a mechanism which would create a supply of cultural heritage content. It is in the interest of the society as a whole that also this content is made available online.
Amsterdam: Universiteit van Amsterdam , 2011. , 81 p.