Last week the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF) concluded two new agreements with private companies to digitze over 70.000 old books, 200.000 sound recordings and other documents belonging (either partially or as a whole) to the public domain. While these public private partnerships enable the digitization of these works they also contain 10-year exclusive agreements allowing the private companies carrying out the digitization to commercialize the digitized documents. During this period only a limited number of these works may be offered online by the BnF.
Together with La Quadrature du Net, Framasoft, SavoirsCom1 and the Open Knowledge Foundation France COMMUNIA has issued a statement (in french) to express our profound disagreement with the terms of these partnerships that restrict digital access to an important part of Europe’s cultural heritage. The agreements that the BnF has entered into, effectively take the works being digitized out of the public domain for the next 10 years.
The value of the public domain lies in the free dissemination of knowledge and the ability for everyone to access and create new works based on previous works. Yet, instead of taking advantage of the opportunities offered by digitization, the exclusivity of these agreements will force public bodies, such as research institutions or university libraries, to purchase digital content that belongs to the common cultural heritage.
As such, these partnerships constitute a commodification of the public domain by contractual means. COMMUNIA has been critical of such arrangements from the start (see our Public Domain Manifesto) and our Policy Reccomendations 4 & 5. More interestingly these agreements are also in direct contradiction with the Public Domain Charter published by the Europeana Foundation in 2011. In this context it is interesting to note that the director of Bibliothèque nationale de France currently serves as the chairman of the Europeana Foundation’s Executive Board.