Balancing Education and Copyright – reflections after Conference on Copyright in Higher Education and Research

MEP Axel Voss, rapporteur of the draft Directive on copyright in the Digital Single Market, did not expect this dossier to be so controversial. And issues relating to the educational sector are not an exception. With these words, the Eurodeputy began his speech at last week’s high-level conference, “A better copyright for quality higher education and research in Europe and beyond”. The conference was organized jointly in Brussels by the European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE), the European Federation of Education Employers (EFEE) and COMMUNIA Association. The event was for us an opportunity to meet educational stakeholders – including members of our Copyright for Education network, as well as representatives of publishers and CMOs.


Teresa Nobre (Communia Association) and MEP Axel Voss (EPP, Germany), photo Education International, CC BY NC

Licenses are not a solution for education

If we were to choose one thing that worries us the most in the ongoing copyright reform as it relates to education, it would certainly be the possibility of license override. According to the current proposal for the  Directive on copyright in Digital Single Market, licences that are easily available in the market can take precedence over the mandatory educational exception.

While this might seem like a way to adjust copyright to national specificity, licensing mechanism will spell new barriers and costs for educational systems across Europe. For countries where educational licenses have not been available to date, this means that there is a possibility that schools will have to pay for materials that have been available to them for free. But educational licenses are not just a matter of money.

Unfair terms and conditions in educational licenses in Europe

During the conference, Teresa Nobre presented our recent study about educational licenses in Europe. We have analysed 10 educational agreements from Finland, France, and the United Kingdom to see what license priority can bring to other countries. Unfortunately, there are reasons to worry. In the cases we studied, copyright holders could collect students data without restrictions, are allowed to disclose and make commercial use of student performance data or enter the schools’ premises at any time to ensure compliance.

Some licenses impose burdensome obligations on schools – such as ensuring that an act of infringement ceases, and preventing any recurrence thereof. Educational institutions cannot easily defend against such unfavorable provisions. In our opinion, the only way of ensuring that such conditions do not affect negatively educators across Europe is to remove the license override mechanism and ensure that schools can force right holders to eliminate or replace unfair or unreasonable terms.


Teresa Nobre presenting the results of the study Educational Licenses in Europe

Problems with cross-border educational activities

The aim of the Commission’s proposal was to introduce a mandatory educational exception to enable digital and cross-border teaching activities. In our view, the Commission’s efforts to harmonize digital education at the EU level will be of little consequence if Member States can ultimately decide to subject the application of exception to the availability of licenses. Steven Stegers from EUROCLIO, which is a member of  Copyright for Education Network, argued that the current proposal will spell challenges for teachers wanting to share their own educational materials online.

EUROCLIO – European Association of History Educators has created an online portal to share open educational resources across borders. Teachers create resources that often use fragments of music, artworks, press photos, or a video clip. It is impossible for them to teach about current events using only copyright free materials. Unfortunately, the shape of the proposed Directive leaves educators with the problem of clearing copyright each time they want to publish something online.


Andrew Todd (LLLP) and Steven Stegers (EUROCLIO), photo Education International, CC BY NC

Supporting teachers as creators

During the conference, educators were seen as not just users, but also creators of content. ETUCE stresses the importance of proper remuneration and attribution of teachers in its Statement on copyright in the DSM. To a large extent, these issues should be solved not through copyright reform, but by better standards for academic and educational institutions that employ educators Nevertheless, the discussion about teachers as creators fits into some themes of the ongoing debate on copyright reform: not just remuneration of creators, but also the use of content filters and the introduction of a new link tax – both of these factors could limit the ability of educators to create, publish and share content.

Excluding textbooks from the scope of the educational exception

Unfortunately, it seems that any of those above mentioned problems are not a concern either for European Parliament members or Member States working within the Council. Instead of dealing with these issues, MEP Voss assured that textbook will be excluded from the scope of educational exception – and argued that the textbook publishing market is small and in need of protection. He seems to ignore the fact that currently 18 out of 28 states have non-remunerated educational exceptions and that the textbooks market is usually well-funded from public funds. The proposal is not ready, but publishers suggest a distinction between content with primary and secondary educational uses.

Balanced approach

Efforts to modernize the EU copyright are entering the final phase. During the conference, MEP Voss confirmed another postponement of the JURI Committee vote, which is now scheduled for 20-21 June. There is very little time left to work on education regulations that will benefit the whole education ecosystem. The most important thing, however, is to find the right balance between the rights of creators and the rights of users in the education sector and listen to the voices of both sides of this debate. We all care about quality education. Let’s choose the best way to achieve it.

The results of the conference will soon be presented in the form of recommendations from the education sector.

If you want to get involved join Vox Scientia – a group of organisations and individual educators, researchers, librarians, cultural heritage professionals and students who stand up and aim to be the ‘Voice of Knowledge’ – ‘Vox scientia’ – in the current EU copyright reform. Communia is an active supporter of this campaign.

Video documentation of the conference is available here. A report of the conference by Education International is available here and more pictures of the event can be found here.

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