Evidence-based copyright policymaking should be a no-brainer

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Beware, evidence-free policymaking ahead

It’s Copyright Week and today’s topic is “Transparency and Representation”. Copyright policy must be set through a participatory, democratic, and transparent process. It should not be decided through backroom deals, secret international agreements, or unilateral attempts to apply national laws extraterritorially. Unfortunately, in many aspects the European Union is not meeting such standards.

The European Union began to consider updating its copyright rules in 2013. In September of last year the European Commission released its proposal for a Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market. Unfortunately, the plan fails to deliver on the promise for a modern copyright law in Europe. It also does not take into account results of consultations that the Commission has conducted.  

It’s obvious to us that any legislative proposal should be developed from reliable, impartial economic and policy research whose foundation is based on evidence and facts. This information should be broadly available for public inspection, and public institutions should solicit and fairly incorporate feedback from a wide range of stakeholders. The process undertaken by the Commission hasn’t lived up to these expectations.

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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.

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).

The Limits of Copyright: Text and Data Mining

This post was originally published on the Creative Commons blog under CC BY 4.0.

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 topic is about supporting fair use, a legal doctrine in the United States and a few other countries that permits some uses of copyrighted works without the author’s permission for purposes such as parody, criticism, teaching, and news reporting. Fair use is an important check on the exclusive bundle of rights granted to authors under copyright law. Fair use is considered a “limitation and exception” to copyright.

One area of particular importance within limitations and exceptions to copyright is the practice of text and data mining. Text and data mining typically consists of computers analyzing huge amounts of text or data, and has the potential to unlock huge swaths of interesting connections between textual and other types of content. Understanding these new connections can enable new research capabilities that result in novel scholarly discoveries and critical scientific breakthroughs. Because of this, text and data mining is increasingly important for scholarly research.

Recently the United Kingdom enacted legislation specifically excepting noncommercial text and data mining from copyright. And as the European Commission conducts their review of EU copyright rules, some groups have called for the addition of a specific text and data mining exception. Copyright for Creativity’s manifesto, released Monday, urges the European Commission to add a new exception for text and data mining, in order to support new uses of technology and user needs.

Another view holds that text and data mining activities should be considered outside the purview of copyright altogether. Our response to the EU copyright consultation takes this approach, saying “if text and data mining would be authorized by a copyright exception, it would constitute a de facto recognition that text and data mining are not legitimate usages. We believe that mining texts and data for facts is an activity that is not and should not be protected by copyright and therefore introducing a legislative solution that takes the form of an exception should be avoided.” Similarly, there have been several actions advocating that “The right to read should be the right to mine.”

Whether text and data mining falls under a copyright exception or outside the scope of copyright, it is clearly an activity that should not be able to be controlled by the copyright owner. But unfortunately, that is exactly what some incumbent publishing gatekeepers are trying to do by setting up restrictive contractual agreements. One example of this practice is with the deployment of a set of “open access” licenses from the International Association of Scientific, Technical & Medical Publishers (STM), many of which attempt to restrict text and data mining of the licensed publications. In jurisdictions such as the United States, users do not need to ask permission (or be granted permission through a license) to conduct text and data mining because the activity either falls outside of the scope of copyright or is squarely covered by fair use.

Ensuring that licenses give copyright owners no more control over their content than they have under copyright law is a fundamental principle of Creative Commons licensing. That’s why the CC licenses explicitly state that they in no way restrict uses that are under a limitation or exception to copyright. This means that users do not have to comply with the license for uses of the material permitted by an applicable limitation or exception (such as fair use) or uses that are otherwise unrestricted by copyright law, such as text and data mining in many jurisdictions.

Today’s topic of fair use rights reminds us that “for copyright to achieve its purpose of encouraging creativity and innovation, it must preserve and promote ample breathing space for unexpected and innovative uses.” To liberate the massive potential for innovation made possible by existing and future types of text and data mining, we need user-focused copyright policy that enables these new activities.


Calculating the Public Domain

Many people recognise the value of works which are in the public domain and may even be familiar with many initiatives that provide access to public domain works (such as the Internet Archive, Wikimedia Commons, Project Gutenberg, etc). Yet, many people do not have a very clear conception of what the public domain is or why it is important.

New digital technologies make it possible for the public to access a vast quantity of cultural and historical material. Much of this material is in the public domain, and ongoing digitisation efforts mean that much more public domain material (in which copyright has expired) will be made available for the public to enjoy, share, and reuse.

However, it is often difficult to determine whether a work has entered the public domain in any given jurisdiction, because the terms of copyright protection differ from country to country. And  people are sometimes unclear about what can or cannot be done with works in the public domain. Copyright laws are complicated, and for the layperson it may not be clear how they apply in relation to a specific work. Though there are many international and multinational copyright agreements and copyright organisations, the exact details of copyright law vary from one country to another. Different countries have different legal systems and traditions – and copyright laws reflect these differences. Hence, given that works enter the public domain under different circumstances depending on the country, oftentimes the status of an individual work cannot be universally established. Rather, it needs to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis for every jurisdiction.

In order to make public domain determinations a less daunting task, the Open Knowledge Foundation has been working on the development of the Public Domain Calculators (http://publicdomain.okfn.org/calculators/) – a tool that enables people to determine the copyright status of a work (in the public domain, or not), thus helping users realize the value of artworks from the past.

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Preserving the Public Domain

Copyright Week provides a timely opportunity to reflect on Communia’s mission to preserve the public domain and our common heritage against copyright extension, misleading attempts to privatize public domain works, the shrinking of users’ rights, and the general trend in extending the scope of copyright in ways detrimental to the production of culture and knowledge.

Communia began as a European Union-funded research network, consisting of an initial group of 50 researchers, practitioners and activists, and led by Juan Carlos De Martin. Communia was joined by non-European institutions in order to study the public domain at large, and also related topics such as open licensing, copyright exceptions and limitations, orphan works, and open data. Unusually, the Communia project produced a piece of work not foreseen in the original grant agreement, the Public Domain Manifesto. The Manifesto is an emblematic text stating that the public domain, the obverse of copyright, is a wealth of works which are difficult to identify and to define. The Manifesto proclaims, Public Domain is the rule and that copyright is the exception.Continue reading