Information Sans Frontières: Orphan works directive in it’s current form creates more harm than good

Information Sans Frontières (ISF), an alliance representing public cultural heritage institutions in Europe, has published a new position statement on the proposed Orphan Works directive. On 23 March the ISF reacted to the recent changes in the proposal that resulted from the ongoing negotiations between Council, Parliament and the Commission stating that it was “deeply disappointed in the outcome.” The ISF is highly critical of the latest version which has transformed the proposed Directive into an instrument that is more likely to complicate access to orphan works than to promote it.

According the ISF there are 4 main issues with the Orphan Works directive in it’s current (23 March) form:

  1. The provision to require remuneration for past use of an orphan work as a rights holder re-appears needs to be removed. It undermines the entire purpose of the directive which is to create certainty for users of orphan works (we have raised this point before)
  2. The provision allowing commercial uses of orphan works (article 7 in the original proposal) needs to be restored in order to allow for public-private partnerships to fund digitization projects
  3. The provisions on technical requirements for record keeping related to diligent searches carried out in order to identify orphan works should be made less technology-specific.
  4. The ‘liability’ amendment that has been added as recital 16a needs to be removed as it increases legal uncertainty for users of orphan works and as such is counterproductive to the overall aim of the directive (facilitating the digitization of Europe’s cultural heritage).

This analysis provided by ISF is largely in line with the concerns raised by COMMUNIA in our policy paper on the proposed directive and later statements on this site. Overall Information Sans Frontières makes it clear that it considers the directive in its current form unable to achieve the objectives it is supposed to achieve. In an updated version of the position statement from 2 april the ISF concludes that:

… we hope that the high-lighted difficulties will be removed in forthcoming negotiations with the Commission and Council. If they are allowed to remain, the Directive will not achieve its purpose, according to the Commission’s IP strategy of promoting the digitisation and making available of the collections of European cultural institutions (p.13). We believe that the Directive will set damaging precedents, and will be of negligible use to our member institutions. As the intended beneficiaries of the Directive, we shall ask the Parliament to reject the Directive in plenary if these problems are not solved.

As we have mentioned here before it is alarming to see an organization representing the intended beneficiaries of the proposed directive reject it in its current form. This is more than understandable as the changes that have been introduced during the negotiations so far have turned a good but technically flawed instrument into an instrument that introduces additional uncertainties and restrictions for cultural heritage institutions that are already struggling to provide access to cultural records from much of the past century.

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