Why is a museum suing Wikipedia for sharing?

Portrait of Richard Wagner
digitisation of public domain works doesn't create new rights

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

European Parliament adopts Reda report, fails to demand real copyright reform

Yesterday the European Parliament approved MEP Julia Reda’s evaluation report of the copyright directive. With the report the European Parliament gives a clear signal that the European Copyright rules need to be modernised. This puts the ball in the court of the Commission, which needs to come up with concrete legislative proposals for a copyright reform – which it promised to deliver before the end of the year. Both Commissioners Oettinger and Ansip have reacted positively to the Report, while its author, Pirate Party MEP has expressed the hope that the Commission’s proposal will be more ambitious than the EPs report, which has been watered down considerably through a large number of amendments.

So while the report is a clear signal that MEPs want to see a modernisation of the EU copyright rules that date back to 2001, it is much less clear what shape these modernised rules should take. Most of the report is based on compromises that MEP Reda has brokered between all major political groups represented in the EP. As a result, the report does not outline a clear plan for reforming copyright. Still, it is possible to distill from it a number of things that MEPs clearly both want and don’t want to see in the reform proposal. It is also clear that pressure from civil society – related to such issues as Freedom of of Panorama, hyperlinking or ancillary copyright, helped avert worst amendments to the report.

MEPs do not want to see further limitations of user rights.

Attempts have  been made to include language that would limit the rights of end users. Fortunately all of these attempts failed. The majority of MEPs is clearly unwilling to further limit the ability of citizens and other users to interact with copyright protected material. Continue reading

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.

The Little Prince: almost in the Public Domain

This week is Copyright Week, a series of actions and discussions supporting key principles that should guide copyright policy. Every day this week, various groups are taking on different elements of the law, and addressing what’s at stake, and what we need to do to make sure that copyright promotes creativity and innovation. Today’s subject is the Public Domain.

Despite nearly 25 years of efforts to fully harmonise digital law in Europe, the road to a harmonised copyright system is certainly not a speedy highway. In fact, each Member State still has its own copyright system that applies within its own territory. One of the areas where this is most visible are the rules for determining when a particular work enters the public domain because the copyright term has expired.

The Little Prince 6th Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was killed in 1944, during a flight over the Mediterranean Sea. “The Little Prince”, his best-known book, is the third most popular novel in the world, translated into over 250 languages over more than 600 translations. More than 80 million copies have been printed. If you know a bit about the rules for determining when a work goes out of copyright, we can assume that on 1st January 2015 “The Little Prince” became part of the public domain. This is because in France copyright lasts for 70 years after the death of the author. And since Saint-Exupéry died in 1944, this would put “The Little Prince” into the public domain in France.

However, the harmonization of the duration of copyright is not uniform. In France, works of authors who died for France during the First and Second World Wars benefit from additional copyright protection. Copyright for works created by these authors is extended for an additional 30 years to compensate for the losses and difficulties in the commercial exploitation of their works during the war.

Beginning this year, “The Little Prince” is in the public domain almost everywhere in Europe. But in France, the novel will pass into the public domain sometime between 1 May 2033 and 1 January 2045, depending on your interpretations of the rules! Interestingly, Canadians have been freely using “The Little Prince” for the last 20 years, as copyright expires there 50 years after the death of the creator.

The French exception may seem surprising to you, but it’s not an outlier. There are multiple other such exceptions present in various European countries. When such irregularities are combined with inconsistent terminology within the European Directives (not to mention differences in the ways the Directives are implemented at the national level) along with unreliable information on the dates of death of the authors, we see we’re a long way from sensible harmonization of copyright law across Europe.

Fortunately, there is good news: establishing a single European framework that enables cross-border flow of products and services is one of the priorities of Jean-Claude Juncker, the newly elected President of the European Commission. The recent report by MEP Julia Reda on the evaluation of the Copyright Directive (2001/29/EC), and tweets made by Commisioner Oettinger and Vice-President Ansip about the need of new copyright rules, are all hopefully signs of coming change. We hope that we’ll be able to report about it during Copyright Week 2016.

(Paul Keller wrote about “The Little Prince” and the public domain on this blog in 2012).

Responding to the European Commission consultation on PSI: Minimizing restrictions maximizes re-use

The Communia Association has responded to the European Commission’s consultation on recommended standard licenses, datasets and charging for the re-use of public sector information (PSI). The Commission asked for comments on these issues in light of the adoption of the new Directive on re-use of public sector information. See our response here. The Directive 1) brings libraries, museums, and archives under the scope of the Directive, 2) provides a positive re-use right to public documents, 3) limits acceptable charging to only marginal costs of reproduction, provision, and dissemination, and 4) reiterates the position that documents can be made available for re-use under open standards and using machine readable formats. Communia recognizes the high value of PSI not only for innovation and transparency, but also for scientific, educational and cultural benefit for the entire society.

We have been providing feedback to the Commission during this process. We last wrote about the Directive in June, and questioned why the Commission had not yet clarified what should be considered a “standard license” for re-use (Article 8). The dangers of license proliferation–which potentially leads to incompatible PSI–is still present. But it’s positive that the Commission is using this consultation to ask specific questions regarding legal aspects of re-use.

Part 3 of the questionnaire deals with licensing issues. One question asks what should be the default option for communicating re-use rights. We believe that there should be no conditions attached to the re-use of public sector information. The best case scenario would be for public sector information to be in the public domain. If it’s not possible to pass laws granting positive re-use rights to PSI without copyright attached, public sector bodies should use the CC0 Public Domain Dedication (CC0) to place public data into as close as possible to the public domain to ensure unrestricted re-use.

Communia calls on the Commission and Member States to ensure that core datasets are released for maximum re-use, either by exempting PSI from copyright and sui generis database rights altogether, or by requiring that these rights are waived under the CC0 Public Domain Dedication.

Another question first states that the Commission prefers the least restrictive re-use regime possible, and asks respondents to choose which condition(s) would be aligned with this goal. Again, we think that every condition would be deemed restrictive, since the best case scenario would be for PSI to be removed from the purview of copyright protection through law or complete dedication of the PSI to the public domain using CC0.

Some conditions would be particularly detrimental to interoperability of PSI. An obligation not to distort the original meaning or message of public sector data should be deemed unacceptable. Such an obligation destroys compatibility with standard public licenses that uniformly do not contain such a condition. The UK’s Open Government License has already removed this problematic provision when it upgraded from OGL 1.0 to OGL 2.0. Any condition that attempts to discriminate based on the type of use or user, or imposes additional requirements on the re-user, should be avoided. Examples include: 1) fees for cost recovery, 2) prohibitions on commercial use, modifications, distortion, or redistribution, and 3) unreasonable attribution requirements. Copyleft conditions can threaten interoperability with existing “attribution-only” standard licenses.

In addition to mentioning CC licensing as a common solution, the questionnaire notes, “several Member States have developed national licenses for re-use of public sector data. In parallel, public sector bodies at all levels sometimes resort to homegrown licensing conditions.” In order to achieve the goals of the Directive and “to promote interoperable conditions for crossborder re-use,” the Commission should consider options that minimize incompatibilities between pools of PSI, which in turn maximize re-use. As far as we are concerned that means that governments should be actively discouraged from developing their own licenses. They should consider removing copyright protection for PSI by amending copyright and/or PSI law or waive copyright and related rights using CC0.

Part 4 of the questionnaire addresses charging options for PSI re-use. While the Communia Association did not provide an opinion on this matter, Federico Morando, Raimondo Iemma, and Simone Basso have provided an in-depth analysis on the Internet Policy Review website.

The Little Prince and the Public Domain

so it’s the time of the year again where lists of authors who’s works will enter into the public domain on the 1st of january are compiled left and right. Generally these efforts work like this: you start a list of authors who have died in in the year ending 70 years ago (1942) and then compile them into a list and rank them by whatever criterion you wish to apply (notability, specific nationality, etc..).

While this seems rather straightforward it seems like a good opportunity to recall the underlying complexities of calculating copyright term duration: If you have a fast internet connection and a big screen, you may want to take a look at this 25 MB pdf, which depicts the decision trees for 30 european jurisdictions that power the public domain calculators on www.outofcopyright.eu.

The interesting thing about this PDF is not how complex it is in absolute terms, but rather that the subject matter depicted is supposed is something that the EU considers to be ‘harmonized’ (by the 2006 copyright term directive). As you can easily tell by glancing at the image above, copyright duration in the EU is anything but harmonised. In fact, as Christiana Angelopoulos, who compiled the information contained in the pdf, argues in a new paper, we are dealing with 27 different public domains for the 27 member states of the EU. Continue reading

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).


The Digital Public Domain: Foundations for an Open Culture

The book “The Digital Public Domain: Foundations for an Open Culture”, edited by Melanie Dulong de Rosnay and Juan Carlos De Martin as an output of the Communia Thematic Network which took place between 2007 and 2011 and is at the origin of Communia Association, is out in all formats (hardback, paperback, and digital editions) and can be purchased on the website of OpenBookPublishers.

book cover The book is under a CC Attribution license and the PDF can be downloaded here: The Digital Public Domain: Foundations for an Open Culture

Citation reference: Melanie Dulong de Rosnay, Juan Carlos De Martin, (eds.), The Digital Public Domain: Foundations for an Open Culture, Open Book Publishers, Cambridge, UK, 2012, 220 p.

This book brings together essays by academics, librarians, entrepreneurs, activists and policy makers, who were all part of the EU-funded Communia project. Together the authors argue that the Public Domain — that is, the informational works owned by all of us, be that literature, music, the output of scientific research, educational material or public sector information — is fundamental to a healthy society.

The essays range from more theoretical papers on the history of copyright and the Public Domain, to practical examples and case studies of recent projects that have engaged with the principles of Open Access and Creative Commons licensing. The book is essential reading for anyone interested in the current debate about copyright and the Internet. It opens up discussion and offers practical solutions to the difficult question of the regulation of culture at the digital age.

The hangover after Public Domain Day…

This post by Lucie Guibault was first published on the Kluwer Copyright Blog and is reproduced here with kind permission of the author.

The New Year’s festivities are just behind us and with these the celebrations around Public Domain Day 2012 that took place in different cities in and outside Europe (Warsaw, Zurich, Turin, Rome, Haifa etc.).

2012 brings with it the joy of using James Joyce’s masterpieces without asking the estate for prior authorization (which more often than not met with a ‘no’ for an answer!). No one needs to be afraid of using the works of Virginia Woolf any longer! And the fans of Arsène Lupin, the French ‘gentleman burglar’, are now able to borrow – for good! – the ideas of its author, Maurice Leblanc. The works of several music composers are also free for reuse, including those of Frank Bridge and Johan Wagenaar.

The Public Domain Day IS important and SHOULD be celebrated annually, for it gives us the occasion to reflect on the significance of works of past authors and to measure the wealth of our common knowledge and culture. But unlike the New Year’s celebrations, however, those of the Public Domain Day do not attract much attention among the general public. Festivities of this sort are usually low-key, taking place in libraries, universities or cafés and gathering only the selected few of the well informed and culturally savvy.

Any cramped optimism concerning the public domain is further discouraged by the fact that the term of protection for copyright and related rights is 1) highly unharmonized across jurisdictions and 2) still being strechted beyond recognition through constant legislative action.

As an illustration of the first point, let me mention the case of world famous writer Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) whose works have fallen into the public domain two days ago in Canada, but neither in his home country, the United States, or in Europe, where copyright lasts for the life of the author + 70 years.

In Europe, the calculation of the term of protection for copyright and related rights is rendered particularly complex due to the lack of proper harmonisation of the governing rules in EU jurisdictions. Although the adoption of the EC Term Directive was an attempt to alleviate disparities between the Member States, harmonisation gaps persist. As a result, the composition of the public domain will differ depending on the country in which protection is sought, as works fall out of copyright on different dates in different EU jurisdictions. This effect is illustrated in the Public Domain Calculators by the need for separate calculators, giving upon occasion very different results, for each of the 30 jurisdictions covered, including the 27, ostensibly harmonised, EU Member States.

In relation to the second point, 2012 will inevitably see the first pieces of national legislation emerge in the EU Member States towards the implementation of Directive 2011/77/EU amending Directive 2006/116/EC on the term of protection of copyright and certain related rights. Through this statutory amendment only sound recordings published or communicated to the public before 1941 will be free for use. In practical terms, this means that none, not even the early recordings, of Maria Callas will be available for re-use without prior authorization of the record company holding the rights.

Finally, the march towards term extension does not seem to have reached its limit if one only takes a look at the clauses contained in bilateral and mulilateral trade agreements currently negotiated by the United States. Article 4.5 of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, for example, would bring the copyright term of protection of signatory countries up to the American (and European) level, as has been the case in the past in the context of bilateral agreements (with Australia and many countries of Central and South America, to name but these).

These are very sobering thoughts indeed! If the alcohol fumes of the New Year’s party still had any effect, one could even be tempted, for simplicity’s sake, to just make copyright protection perpetual…

Coming up: Public Domain Day 2012

Every January a growing number of people throughout the world gathers to celebrate the new year. But not for the usual reasons. They meet because every January 1st the works of authors who had died decades before – typically, seventy years before – enter the public domain, that is, their copyright protection expires. Why a celebration for such an apparently technical reason? Because as the new years starts, the works of those selected authors have finally reached the state to which all culture is headed since the earliest times. I am talking of the state that automatically allows any human being to sing, play, translate, summarize, adapt what other human beings have thought before them. Wish to produce a big print edition of your favorite poetry? Now you can. Fancy to translate into Sicilian dialect a play you love? Now you can. Possessed by the desire to illustrate, manga style, the ideas of your preferred political scientist? Now you can. Longing to publish a more correct version of a score riddled with typos that the publisher never cared to correct? Now you can.

Public Domain Day 2012In principle, all the above activities are perfectly possible even before the expiration of copyright. On condition, however, that one asks for permission the copyright owner (assuming that it can be located: let’s ignore here the huge problem of the so-called “orphan works”) and pays whatever is requested. Noting that very often the copyright owner is not the author (or his/her descendants), but a for-profit publishing house.

Consequently, many activities do not take place because either the copyright owner does not like the idea (no manga, for instance), or because the wannabe new author cannot afford to pay what is requested by the copyright owner.

Such restrictions, introduced, in their modern form, about three centuries ago to provide – for the common good – incentives to authors, now last an unprecedented seventy years (in Europe and in many other countries) after the death of the authors.

A shockingly long time, that an increasing number of scholars, NGO’s (among them the COMMUNIA association) and citizens are asking to reduce. To know more about the current debate on copyright reform and the role of the public domain, see for instance the Public Domain Manifesto, or check out the OKF’s Working Group on the Public Domain.

But as we work towards copyright reform, every January people who care about the public domain get together and welcome the works of a new batch of authors. In recent years, public domain day celebrations have taken place in cities throughout the world, from Zurich to Warsaw, from Torino to Haifa, from Rome to Berlin. The volunteer-staffed website publicdomainday.org provides an information hub for such celebrations.

The celebrations typically take place in libraries, universities or cafés. People read – or sometimes perform – the work of the new authors. It is often a moving experience, as great men and women from the time of our grand (and grand-grand) fathers come back to life under our affectionate gaze.

During the month of January 2012 people will gather again. Celebrations have already been announced in, among other places, Warsaw, Zurich, Torino and Rome. We hope that others will follow the example. Welcoming the works of some of our great writers, musicians, painters, poets, journalists, scholars is a most gratifying way to start the new year and also a great way to enhance the knowledge of our common cultural roots.