COMMUNIA position paper on EU Digital Single Market

The aim of this position paper is to respond to the call made by European Commission to open public discussion on digital single market and its expected shape in the coming years.

We fully agree with President Juncker that we need to “break down national silos in copyright”. As was noted by President Juncker in his opening statement, one of the challenges standing in front of the Digitial Single Market is a modernisation of the  copyright rules in the light of the digital revolution and changed consumer behaviour. We fully support this position, which considers copyright a fundamental regulatory mechanism for a modern economy.

The current system of IP protection is not only over-complicated, but also unclear to all its stakeholders. Thus one of the goals of this modernisation should be a simplification of rules, and in particular a harmonisation across Member States and jurisdictions. Typically, harmonisation is mentioned with regard to territoriality and market fragmentation that affects commercial content. We want to point out that it is just as important to harmonise copyright rules that create freedoms for public institutions, certain uses beneficial to society (for example, educational and research uses) or for individual citizens.

These issues are often, wrongly, seen as of secondary importance, because of the fact that they are exceptions, functioning largely in non-market environments. Yet in the context of the Digital Single Market it is necessary to point out that there is also significant economic potential related to these user freedoms – for example in areas related to education, research or health care, not to mention SMEs and entrepreneurs. Proper copyright exceptions and limitations lead not only to greater user freedoms, but are also themselves significant added value. A broadly understood public domain is in this aspect similar to Public Sector Information, which is well understood in Europe to be a raw material, on which added value is created through re-use (provided that we provide adequate reimbursement to right holders where necessary and protect privacy and personal data).

Due to a lack of such harmonised exceptions across Europe, we not only miss out on potential economic and social gains. Different legal rules between Member States lead to uncertainty for anyone attempting to engage in cross border activities. Massive open online courses (MOOCs) are but one example of educational enterprises that could benefit from greater legal clarity in this regard.

For those reasons, we urge the Commission to expand and adapt current copyright exceptions and copyright limitations so that they serve public benefit in the digital, online environment. Furthermore, we ask that the Public Domain, a body of knowledge and heritage that can be freely used, is protected, strengthened and widened. We also believe that an open provision that ensures flexibility with regard to digital technologies and social practices should be introduced to support innovative business and civic developments. The following pillars could be the base for Digital Single Market reforms:

1. HARMONISATION OF EXCEPTIONS AND LIMITATIONS. Europe should harmonise exceptions and limitations of the Copyright Directive among the Member States and open up the exhaustive list so that the user prerogatives can be adapted to ongoing technological transformations. The limited list of Exceptions and Limitations established by the Copyright Directive restricts the possibilities to adjust the copyright system to the rapid pace of technological innovation that shapes how we interact with copyright-protected works. This not only limits the abilities of citizens to gain access to our shared culture and knowledge but also imposes restrictions for innovative business models, and as a result, economic growth. In the absence of open-ended exceptions such as a fair use clause it is imperative that exceptions and limitations can be adjusted to the needs of society at large and innovative economic actors in particular.

2. TERM OF PROTECTION. The term of copyright protection should be reduced. The excessive length of copyright protection combined with an absence of formalities is highly detrimental to the accessibility to our shared knowledge and culture. There is no evidence that copyright protection that extends decades beyond the life of the author encourages the production of copyright protected works. Instead, there is compelling evidence that the requirement to obtain permission for works by authors that have long died is one of the biggest obstacles for providing universal access to our shared culture and knowledge.

3. REGISTRATION. In order to prevent unnecessary and unwanted protection of works of authorship, full copyright protection should only be granted to works that have been registered by their authors. Non-registered works should only get moral rights protection. One of the unintended consequences of the near universal access to electronic publishing platforms is an increase in the amount of works that are awarded copyright protection even though their authors do not require or desire such protection. This extension of protection threatens to undermine the value and effectiveness of protection for works where copyright protection is necessary and desired.

4. LEGAL UNCERTAINTY. As a prerequisite for unlocking the cultural, educational and economic potential of the public domain, identification of works in the public domain should be made easier and less resource-intensive by simplifying and harmonizing rules of copyright duration and territoriality. The rules for establishing the duration of the term of protection of individual works have become so complex that it is almost impossible to establish with certainty whether a work is protected by copyright (including all neighboring rights) or whether it is in the public domain. This complexity in the system makes it very difficult to automatically calculate the status of a work. Two factors have contributed to this situation: the divergence of legislation between the different Member States, and a large number of (national) exception clauses. This situation can only be remedied by intervention on the European level, preferably by simplifying the rules and harmonizing them across Europe. The work on public domain calculators has highlighted the incredible complexity of copyright term rules which makes it very difficult to determine the copyright status of individual works. This means that one of the biggest obstacles to positively identifying public domain works (and thus unlocking their cultural, educational and economic potential) lies in the cumbersome process of determining the term of copyright protection.

5. DIGITAL REPRODUCTIONS. Digital reproductions of works that are in the public domain must also belong to the public domain. Use of works in the public domain should not be limited by any means, either legal or technical. The Internet enables the widespread re-use of digital reproductions of works of authorship whose copyright protection has expired. The public domain status of these works means that there is no owner of the works who can impose restrictions on their re-use. At the same time the owners of the physical works (such as heritage institutions) often feel that they are entitled to control over digital reproductions as well and that they can impose restrictions on their re-use. However, digitization of public domain works does not create new rights over it: works that are in the public domain in analogue form continue to be in the public domain once they have been digitized.

6. PUBLIC FUNDING OF DIGITIZATION PROJECTS. Digitization projects that receive public funding must at the minimum ensure that all digitized content is publicly available online. Allowing for the free redistribution of digitized content should be considered since it is beneficial for the sustainability of the access to digitized cultural heritage. When public funding is used for digitization projects it needs to be assured that the public benefits from these efforts. At the minimum this means that digital versions need to be available online for consultation by the public that has paid for the digitization effort. Public funding bodies should prioritize digitization projects that will increase the amount of our shared and culture that is available to the public. Memory institutions that receive public funding should consider making available digitized collections with as little restrictions as possible. Free availability of collections which includes the free redistribution and re-use of the digital artifacts will result in wider availability and reduce the risks inherent to centralized storage.

We would like to express our true devotion to support the above mentioned recommendations.

Since the European Commission encourages also sharing of graphical and multimedia elements, we would also like to submit a set of thematic postcards. Each one combines a treasure of European cultural heritage with one of our policy recommendations. The postcards are available here.

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).