Copyright Week 2016: The public domain as foundation for EU copyright law reform

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We’re taking part in 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.

COMMUNIA advocates for policies that expand the public domain and increase access to and re-use of culture and knowledge. Over the last few years we’ve focused on policy advocacy and copyright reform in Europe, especially in light of the review of the EU copyright rules. The public domain is an essential sphere for creativity and knowledge production, and its limitless potential continues to inform our copyright reform advocacy.

We write in our March 2015 policy paper about several changes to EU copyright law that would better support the public domain. Some of these include capping the term of copyright protection to the minimum required by the Berne Convention, opposing the introduction of ancillary copyrights, protecting the freedom of panorama, and exempting works produced by the public sector from copyright protection. In addition, we call for the introduction of a positive definition of the public domain, the recognition of the legal validity of voluntary dedication of works to the public domain by their authors, and clarity that digitizing public domain works should not generate new exclusive rights.

In June of last year the European Parliament adopted an evaluation report on the existing EU copyright rules authored by MEP Julia Reda. While the EP failed to call for substantial updates to exceptions and limitations, it contains some support for the public domain. It urges the European Commission to clarify that once a work is in the public domain, the simple act of digitisation does not create new rights. It suggests that the term of copyright be held at the international standard (life of the author plus 50 years). It also states that works created by government employees should be in the public domain. Finally, it recognizes that authors should be able to dedicate their works to the public domain.

With its report, the European Parliament also rejected the introduction of an ancillary copyright for for press publishers. This is an important victory as adding such an extra layer of rights to the already extensive body of copyright and copyright-like protections would further limit the public domain. Unfortunately, the European Commission still hasn’t distanced itself from plans to introduce an ancillary copyright on the EU level, which has prompted 83 members of parliament to reconfirm their opposition to it in December.

With legislative proposals promised by the Commission in the first half of this year, 2016 promises to become a crucial year with regard to the shape of the public domain in Europe. On the 25th of January we are kicking the year off with an event in the European Parliament celebrating Public Domain Day (hosted by MEP Julia Reda). Together with creators and policymakers, we will discuss the value of the public domain and how an update of the EU copyright rules can strengthen the public domain for everyone.

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