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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.