Why licensing is not always the solution

Last week we took part in a breakfast meeting at the European Parliament under the theme “Why licensing is not always the solution”. The meeting was hosted by MEP Jytte Guteland and co-organised by Communia together with Copyright for Creativity, IFLA, EBLIDA, and LIBER. Our goal was to demonstrate the need for reforms that go beyond licensing-based solutions, and focus in particular on supporting and expanding exceptions and limitations to copyright.

Alek Tarkowski, speaking on behalf of Communia, talked about the importance of exceptions and limitations as one of the building blocks of the Public Domain. As such, they are fundamental for creating breathing spaces within the copyright system, in which public interest goals can be achieved without copyright-related limitations.

The insufficiency of licensing-based solutions was a clear outcome of the “Licenses for Europe” structured debate in 2013. Yet in recent weeks licensing-based solutions have started to resurface in the public debate on copyright. The European Publishers Council pushes for self-regulatory solutions (that is licenses) in its submission to the Digital Single Market consultation. CISAC, in its letter to MEP Reda, goes even further and describes exceptions and limitations as damaging to artists and their families.

It is in this context that we are asking for the European legislator to review the scope of the exceptions and limitations that are currently in force – and which were defined in the InfoSoc Directive almost 15 years ago. We need strong, harmonised, re-imagined exceptions and limitations as a fundamental building block of a copyright system fit for the digital age.

While not the focus of our position paper, free licensing is sometimes seen as a specific case of self-regulation. The success of Creative Commons licensing has been raised in the past as an argument in favor of a focus on licensing-based solutions. We are against such arguments and see free licensing as another founding element of the Public Domain. It is worth reminding in this context the Creative Commons statement in support of copyright reform.

Our position is fully described in our new position paper, “The importance of exceptions and limitations for a balanced copyright policy. ​Licensing alone will not secure user rights”. You can find it, alongside previous statements, in our “Policy Papers” section.

UPDATE: IFLA and Copyright for Creativity have also published posts about the meeting.

Expand Public Domain and User Rights: COMMUNIA position paper on copyright reform

We are publishing today our position paper on copyright reform in Europe (PDF), as a statement in the ongoing debate that focuses on the reform of the Information Society Directive.

Our position is based on the 14 policy recommendations that are at the heart of our organisation, as well as on our previous policy documents. We start by defining three basic principles:

  1. Exclusive rights should be limited.
  2. The public domain should not be eroded by legal or technical means.
  3. Limitations and exceptions to copyright should continue playing their role of adapting copyright to technological changes.

Based on them, we formulate 12 positions on  the EU copyright framework reform. We will be using them as guidance for our own advocacy work – but we present them also as recommendations for policy makers.

These positions are result of a discussion on ways of translating a general principle of defending and expanding the public domain into recommendations that fit onto current policy debates in Europe.  In this light we are pleased to see that the majority of our positions have been covered by MEP Reda in her draft report on the implementation of of the InfoSoc directive.

New policy paper on the re-use of public sector information in cultural heritage institutions

In 2013 the European Union enacted Directive 2013/37/EU amending Directive 2003/98/EC on the re-use of public sector information (PSI). The 2013 directive is an important pillar of the European Union’s open data strategy. It establishes the general principle that public sector bodies’ available information shall be reusable in accordance with a number of conditions, such as open formats, terms and conditions. Member States are asked to transpose the new rules into domestic law by 18 July 2015, i.e. about nine months from now. One of the major new features of the PSI directive is the inclusion in its scope of libraries (including university libraries), museums and archives. However, if Member States are not careful, the implementation of the changes required by the new directive could do more harm than good to cultural heritage institutions.

The directive attempts for the first time to define a general framework for sharing cultural heritage information all around Europe. Under the amended directive, libraries, museums and archives are now asked to make parts of their collections available for reuse. In particular, documents in the Public Domain (either because never protected or because the protection expired) are under the general re-use rule of Art. 3(1), while documents in which libraries, museums and archives hold intellectual property rights are under the derogatory rule of Art. 3(2): only when institutions allow re-use are they under the obligation to ensure that the general re-use conditions are respected. Accordingly, the re-use requirements of the directive only apply to works that are not covered by third-party intellectual property rights.

While laudable in principle, the inclusion of cultural heritage institutions in the scope of the directive raises a number of questions related to how Member States should implement the new PSI directive. If Member States are not careful, the implementation of the changes required by the new directive could do more harm than good to cultural heritage institutions. In order for the directive to meet its overall objective, i.e. to contribute to opening up the resources held by Europe’s cultural heritage institutions, three main recommendations for member states can be formulated:

  1. Member States should implement the Directive in line with the principles established by Article 3 and ensure that all documents that are not currently covered by third party intellectual property rights fall within the scope of the Directive.
  2. Member States must not implement the Directive in such a way that encourages or requires institutions to charge for the reuse of works that they make available for reuse. The decision to charge for reuse must be up to the individual institutions. If this is not the case the Directive will limit access and reuse of the public domain.
  3. For documents that are still protected by intellectual property rights but where these rights are held by the cultural heritage institutions, Member States should encourage the use of Open Definition-compliant licenses, such as the Creative Commons licenses or the Creative Commons Zero mechanism. This applies in particular to metadata produced by cultural heritage institutions, in the limited cases where these metadata can attract copyright (such as long form descriptions of cultural heritage objects).

For a deeper analysis of these issues see the full policy paper on the re-use of public sector information in cultural heritage institutions.