Public Domain on Trial in Reiss-Engelhorn Museum vs. Wikimedia et al.

Portrait of Richard Wagner
Digitisation of public domain works should not create new rights.
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Is it dangerous to take a public domain picture from Wikipedia and use it on your blog or print it on a T-shirt? Last week we wrote about a copyright case in Germany where several users of public domain pictures received letters from the lawyers of Mannheim’s Reiss-Engelhorn museum. The letters demanded payment for the use of photos of public domain art works that had been uploaded to Wikipedia. The museum justifies this legal action by pointing to the costs of digitizing their artworks and the respective acquisition of some form of ancillary copyright protection for simple photographs (“Lichtbildschutz”, § 72 in the German copyright law). On Wikimedia Commons, the repository that hosts media for Wikipedia, there is already a separate category for “Images subject to Reiss Engelhorn lawsuit”.

Amongst the several recipients of the letters were not only Wikimedia Germany and the Wikimedia Foundation, but also the online radio station detektor.fm and the non-profit website “Musical&Co”, which features music-related articles authored by children for children. Continue reading

UK Intellectual Property Office: what is in the Public Domain must stay in the Public Domain

Figuren bij een drukpers
Digitization does not create new rights over Public Domain works
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It is not often that we find ourselves in agreement with the copyright policy positions of government entities entrusted with maintaining the copyright rules. Given this it is somewhat of a rare find to discover the UK Intelllectual Property Office (IPO) has recently thrown its full weight behind our policy recommendation #5 (‘Digital reproductions of works that are in the Public Domain must also belong to the Public Domain.’). In a recently updated copyright notice on ‘digital images, photographs and the internet’ the IPO provides the following answer to the question ‘Are digitised copies of older images protected by copyright?’

Simply creating a copy of an image won’t result in a new copyright in the new item. However, there is a degree of uncertainty regarding whether copyright can exist in digitised copies of older images for which copyright has expired. Some people argue that a new copyright may arise in such copies if specialist skills have been used to optimise detail, and/or the original image has been touched up to remove blemishes, stains or creases.

However, according to the Court of Justice of the European Union which has effect in UK law, copyright can only subsist in subject matter that is original in the sense that it is the author’s own ‘intellectual creation’. Given this criteria, it seems unlikely that what is merely a retouched, digitised image of an older work can be considered as ‘original’. This is because there will generally be minimal scope for a creator to exercise free and creative choices if their aim is simply to make a faithful reproduction of an existing work.

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Why is a museum suing Wikipedia for sharing?

Portrait of Richard Wagner
digitisation of public domain works doesn't create new rights
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Above is the Portrait of Richard Wagner by Cäsar Willich, one of the contested images.

Yesterday the Wikimedia Foundation and Wikimedia Deutschland announced that they’re fighting a copyright infringement lawsuit brought by the Reiss Engelhorn Museum. The German museum is suing Wikimedia for publishing digital reproductions of public domain artworks from its collection on Wikipedia. The physical works of art housed in the museum are clearly in the public domain, but German copyright law might apply to photographic reproductions of those works. According to Wikimedia,

The Reiss Engelhorn Museum asserts that copyright applies to these particular images because the museum hired the photographer who took some of them and it took him time, skill, and effort to take the photos. The Reiss Engelhorn Museum further asserts that because of their copyrights, the images of the artwork cannot be shared with the world through Wikimedia Commons.

Wikimedia aligned its goals with those of many cultural heritage institutions, and restated their community’s ongoing commitment to increasing the accessibility and reuse of creative content in the commons. The foundation and Wikimedia Deutschland disagreed with the views of the museum, saying that “Copyright law should not be misused to attempt to control the dissemination of works of art that have long been in the public domain…[t]he intent of copyright is to reward creativity and originality, not to create new rights limiting the online sharing of images of public domain works.” Continue reading

Directors of major European cultural heritage institutions demand copyright reform

Keizerlijke bibliotheek en rariteitenkabinet
Online access to cultural heritage now!
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Today, Europeana published an open letter to Commissioner Oettinger in which the directors of 29 major European cultural heritage institutions demand a reform of the European copyright rules that would allow their institutions to make more of their collections available online. This letter comes in response to the Commission’s intention to review parts of the existing copyright rules to make sure that copyright functions within the Digital Single Market.

In their letter (which can be signed by additional institutions here), the directors argue that their institutions are hindered by the fact that the existing exceptions and limitations benefitting their organisations have not evolved to reflect the ways that citizens access and engage with cultural content:

Europe’s public cultural heritage institutions are key to influencing and shaping our lives with unrivalled access to information, culture and our shared history. They promote knowledge, education, research and encourage the creation of new culture.

Ways to share and engage with cultural content have been transformed in a digital age, but limitations in current European copyright rules restrict that full potential. As a result, our institutions contain large collections established and cared for using public funds but they cannot be made easily available to the public online.

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Poland restricts access to digitized cultural heritage

Soon the most valuable digital works of art and culture may be available all around Europe, free of charge, licenses, watermarks, and in open, machine-readable formats.  Together with their metadata they can be used to not only promote rich heritage of our culture, but also to build innovative applications, web services and boost the creative economy all across the Europe. This is the promise made by the European Union, as contained in the new Directive on the re-use of public sector information.

But establishing a single framework, which enables the cross-border offer of products and services is not an easy thing. According to the last report of the PSI Group, Member States are struggling with many challenges while implementing the Directive into domestic law. As might be expected, the correct choice of licensing, charging and redress mechanisms are especially hard to solve.

In the recent Communia policy paper on the re­use of public sector information in cultural heritage institutions, we were  concerned that if Member States are not careful, the implementation of the changes required by the new Directive could do more harm than good when it comes to access to digitized cultural heritage in Europe. Work on the implementation of the Directive into Polish law shows that this scenario can happen in Poland.

In November 2014, Poland has published a draft proposal of the new bill, which assumes that documents held by cultural heritage institutions are within the scope of the Directive only if they are in the public domain, either because they were never protected by copyright or because copyright has expired.

The problem, therefore, lies in the fact that the remaining resources, even if the institution owns the copyright, have been excluded from the scope of the proposed law. The Ministry of Culture and Digital Heritage, which has been in favour of this very narrow reading of the Directive, believes that it should not apply either to works created by employees of institutions or to works, for which third parties have transferred rights to cultural institutions. What does this mean in practice?

Most importantly, re-use rules will not apply to such important information as descriptive metadata, bibliographic and catalog data. Without metadata and descriptions heritage resources will become useless for those wanting to re-use digital cultural resources. Similarly, public cultural institutions – for example modern art galleries – will still be able to restrict access to the information that they hold, even though it has been produced with public funds.

And such an implementation is in our opinion [see our policy paper p. 4-6]  contrary to the very principle that inspired both the 2003 and 2013 Directives and could lead to the creation of unnecessary hurdles to the re­use of public sector information.

What is maybe even worse, Polish cultural institutions will also be able to impose additional conditions – restricting commercial use (promotion or advertising) or allowing only certain forms and scope of reuse. Even for works that are in the public domain.

This implementation has the combined support of collective management organizations, museums (which in general are much more conservative than libraries in their approach towards digitization and sharing of cultural objects) and the Polish Ministry of Culture and Digital Heritage. One of the concerns raised is that the private sector will be able to build competitive services, museum catalogues or images banks, to those provided by the museums. But wasn’t it the idea of new PSI Directive? In general, it is surprising to see these organizations favour an approach that limits as much as possible reuse of cultural works – since such sharing is explicitly defined as part of their public mission.

All around the world, public domain is treated as the information that is free from intellectual property barriers. Anyone can use and reuse it, remix, combine and translate without obtaining permission. For commercial and non-commercial purposes. But no one can ever own it. In theory. Observing the legislative process in Poland, it becomes clear that in some countries the implementation of the new PSI Directive can indeed not only do more harm than good with regard to access to cultural heritage, but even threaten the idea of the public domain.

We hope that ultimately the Ministry of Administration and Digital Affairs – which is responsible for drafting the bill – will propose a law that supports a modern approach to digital cultural heritage and protects the Public Domain.  And that with time the Ministry of Culture and Digital Heritage will adapt Poland’s cultural policy as well so that allowing access and reuse is seen as part of the public mission, and not as threat to culture.

Europe’s cultural heritage institutions deserve better

For those of us looking forward to copyright rules that enable European cultural heritage institutions to provide online access to their collections, two important things happened last week: on Wednesday 29th October, the Orphan Works directive (OW directive) came into force and on Saturday 1st November, the new European Commission headed by Jean-Claude Juncker assumed office.

The first event marks the failure of the existing system, while the second one is reason to give us hope for a more meaningful modernisation of the European copyright system.

The fact that the current system does not take into account the needs of cultural heritage institutions is painfully illustrated by the Orphan Works directive. After years of legislative wrangling, Europe came up with a ‘solution’ for the problem of orphan works that requires cultural heritage institutions wanting to make orphan works available to undertake complicated searches for rights holders, before they are allowed to publish them. In most cases, the resources required for such searches are completely out of balance with the cultural and economic value of the work. This means that the Orphan Works directive may be a useful tool for making small numbers of high profile works available, but not as an enabler of mass digitisation projects.

The fact that the OW directive ended up as a crippled tool that fails to address the problem it was designed to answer (enabling mass digitisation of collections), is the result of a number factors: strong pressure from rights holders and their representatives to preserve the underlying principles of copyright even in a situation where they do more good than harm; the lack of coordinated advocacy efforts from cultural heritage institutions at the European Level; and a weak European Commission that was split on copyright.

With regards to the last point there is reason to hope that the situation is changing. The Juncker Commission that came into office on the first of November has made the modernisation of copyright one of its top priorities. In his mission letters to the Commissioners in charge of a connected Digital Single Market, Juncker made it clear that he expects his team to come up with ‘ambitious legislative steps’ towards ‘modernising copyright rules in the light of the ongoing digital revolution’ within the next six months.

In other words, the time to start fighting for copyright rules that enable cultural heritage institutions to properly function online is now!Continue reading

COMMUNIA policy paper on digitization agreements

The aim of this policy paper is to make policy recommendations for cultural institutions to preserve the Public Domain when using digitization services provided by private entities. This becomes particularly relevant in the context of the 2013 Public Sector Information (PSI) Directive which adds Museums, Libraries and Archives in the list of Public Sector Bodies (PSBs) that have to make their information reusable.

The Public Domain ensures the free dissemination of knowledge and provides everyone with the potential to access and create new works based on previous works. Thus, all Public Domain works should be free for everyone to use and reuse. Yet, as many cultural heritage institutions are entering into contractual agreements with third parties for the digitization of Public Domain works, there are serious concerns regarding the conditions of access, use and reuse of the resulting digitized copies.

Ideally, digital copies of Public Domain materials would be made immediately and freely available to the public. However, in practice, many of these public-private partnerships impose contractual restrictions that limit access and re-use of Public Domain materials. These restrictions have the same effect as introducing a new proprietary right over the digitized copies of Public Domain material, thereby substantially limiting the use and reuse of content that belongs to the common cultural heritage by subjecting it to a requirement of prior authorisation.

This risk is further increased with the introduction of the PSI 2013 regime, which allows the conclusion of exclusive agreements between private entities and PSBs under restrictive terms and with a potential perpetual validity.

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Communia condemns the privatization of the Public Domain by the Bibliothèque nationale de France

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.

Photo by Scarlet Green (CC-BY)

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.

 

Communia comments on Library of Congress Third Party Digitization Initiatives


Messenger boy / The Library of Congress / No known copyright restrictions

Last week the Communia Association submitted comments (PDF) to the United States Library of Congress’ Request for Information on the topic of Third Party Digitization Initiatives.

To give a little bit of context, the Library of Congress is looking for contractors to digitize some of their collections, primarily public domain content. In exchange for digitizers scanning materials at zero cost to the Library, the contractors “may market and resell, for a limited period, access to the digitized collection to cover the costs of digitization.” Contractors must provide the Library with a digital copy of the materials, and they must “make materials widely available.” The Library agrees to not make the digitized materials available online for a certain period of time (this embargo will be no more than 3 years) so that the Contractor can recoup the scanning costs. The Contractor must meet certain quality parameters and provide some metadata to the Library. Finally, the Contractor “shall not claim copyright in the digitized copies of the original Library materials…[but] may assert copyright in independent, creative elements that it may add to the original materials.”

Communia applauds the Library of Congress for taking the initiative to increase public access to its collection. In its comments, Communia urged the Library to push for broad, unencumbered public access to its digitized materials as soon as possible.

We offer a few suggestions for strengthening the Library’s Request for Proposals (RFP). A few of these suggestions are outlined below:

  • The Public Domain Manifesto says that digital reproductions of works in the public domain must also belong to the public domain. And since the Contractors may not claim copyright in the digitized copies, it would be beneficial for these copies to be marked as being in the public domain using a tool such as the Creative Commons Public Domain Mark.
  • The Library should consider bids from Contractors that entertain a wide variety of access models. For example, some digitizers might be in the position to offer immediate, free ad-supported access (instead of selling access on demand).
  • In general, the Library should prioritize bids that provide free public access sooner than those that have longer embargo periods.
  • The Library should consider involving volunteers and other community organizations willing to assist in the digitization and quality control work. For example, Wikimedia France partnered with the Bibliothèque nationale de France to process high definition files of public domain texts.
  • The Library requires the vendor to provide a set of core metadata. The Library should be authorized to release this metadata into the public domain using the CC0 Public Domain Dedication, thus aligning with an open metadata model used by several large libraries around the world, including The British Library, Harvard Library, and soon to be used by Europeana.
  • The Library should develop a strategic access plan and secure the necessary funding so that the materials can be properly archived and made publicly available without delay once the period of exclusivity has come to an end.
  • In future RFPs, the Library should consider how to leverage the expertise and capacity of digitizers to scan not only these small, interesting, and impactful collections, but also the vast (yet less visible) trove of public domain materials that comprise the bulk of the Library’s collection.
You can view the full comments of Communia here (PDF).

 

UK government proposal to modernize copyright underlines failure of EU approach to hostage works

The UK Government has published a Government Policy Statement based on the recent Consultation on modernising Copyright held in the UK. The document summarizes the findings of the consultation and outlines policy actions that the UK government intends to take. The policy statement (pdf) covers three fields where the government intends to legislate: ‘Improvements to copyright licensing’, ‘Extended Collective Licensing’ and ‘Codes of Conduct for collecting societies’:

The Government, following the Hargreaves Review, made a number of proposals to make copyright licensing more efficient and remove unnecessary barriers to the legitimate use of works while preserving the interests of right holders. These include schemes to allow use of ‘orphan’ works whose copyright holder cannot be found or is unknown, voluntary extended collective licensing, and introducing minimum standards of conduct for collecting societies, underpinned by a backstop power to impose a statutory code of conduct on a collecting society where required.

These measures bring some currently unlawful or unlicensed activities within the scope of legal activity, allowing licensing to occur and thus benefiting right holders and licensees alike. They have potential to cut costs and improve compliance with copyright law, and to improve confidence in the UK copyright system.(p.7)

In the light of the discussion about the ‘Orphan works’ directive the first two of these should be of interest beyond the borders of the Island Kingdom.Continue reading