Last week we saw another Advocate General (AG) opinion published that deals with the position of cultural heritage institutions within the EU copyright framework. Hot on the heels of AG Szpunar’s opinion on e-lending, AG Wathelet weighed in on the question of whether the French system for making out-of-print books available online is aligned with the EU copyright directive. His opinion in the case C‑301/15 Soulier en Doke is that the French scheme, which assigns the digital reproduction and performance rights for out-of-print books to a collecting society that then licenses them, is incompatible with the InfoSoc directive. Such an opinion effectively undermines the idea that Extended Collective Licensing (ECL) can serve as a solution for the copyright problems created by mass digitisation of cultural heritage collections.
This opinion comes at a crucial time when the EU Commission is finalising its copyright reform proposal, which is scheduled to be published in September. As part of this proposal the Commission has promised to propose measures that will “make it easier to digitise out-of-commerce works and make them available”. While the Commission has so far been silent on the mechanism that it would propose to achieve this goal, it is generally understood that there are two different approaches on the table:
- an expansion of the existing exceptions to copyright benefitting cultural heritage institutions (as demanded by cultural heritage institutions themselves), or;
- measures that would facilitate ECL schemes and their cross-border application.
The Death of Extended Collective Licensing?
While AG Wathelet’s opinion only concerns the specific question referred to the CJEU by the French court, it has much wider-ranging consequences. Should the CJEU rule in agreement with the opinion (note that a decision is not expected until after the September publication of the Commission’s proposal), then Extended Collective Licensing is effectively dead as a solution for the copyright problems created by mass digitisation. In this sense, this opinion supports the position expressed by cultural heritage institutions that the only real solution for their issues is an update of the relevant exceptions in the InfoSoc directive. Continue reading