Orphan works reforms approved by European Parliament committee amidst apparent voting irregularities

Out-Law News | 19 Mar 2012 | 4:37 pm | 2 min. read

A European Parliament committee has voted in favour of reforming copyright laws to enable so-called 'orphan works' to be made available in online archives.

Orphan works are copyrighted material, such as books, films and music, which have no identified owner. At the moment many orphan works lie in storage in libraries and other institutions and because of copyright law cannot be digitised or used without permission until the term of copyright expires.

The Parliament's Legal Affairs committee voted to back draft legislation that would enable institutions to digitise works if, following a "diligent" search, the copyright holder cannot be identified or located. Once digitised the orphan works could be utilised for non-commercial use, according to a press statement from the committee.

The draft legislation that has been backed allows for copyright holders to "put an end  to the orphan status of a work at any time and claim an appropriate compensation for the use made out of it," according to the committee.  Individual member states will be able to draw up their own rules on the compensation regime for those circumstances.

"This regulation would finally make it possible to get some hidden treasures out of the closet and make them available to the general public," Lidia Geringer de Oedenberg MEP and Legal Affairs committee member said. "Now it is time to start negotiating with national governments and stand up for our points".

Geringer de Oedenberg will now lead a team from the Parliament into discussions with the Council of Ministers over the reforms. The draft legislation can only be approved following approval by the Council of Ministers and a full vote at the European Parliament.

Geringer de Oedenberg had written to the chair of the Legal Affairs Committee after spotting apparent irregularities in the number of votes cast and counted during the process of finalising the draft proposals. She said "crucial" amendments to the reforms had been rejected on the basis of more votes counted than had been cast.

"During the vote I was making precise notes as to the balance of votes in favour and against to my crucial amendments," she said. "It came to me as a surprise that for my Compromise Amendments 20 check vote announced by the Chair was 14 to 12 which gives us 26 Members! Considering that we only have 24 Members in [the] Committee and according to the protocol only 23 were present this result is confusing and calls for clarification".

"Similar situation appears on Amendment 71 which pass with the result announced  13 to 12  what gives as 25 Members and my Amendment 32 which fall 13 to 11 -24 Members. In the light of above mentioned facts I would like to ask you for precise clarification on all those matters and kind reconsideration of re-vote for my report," Geringer de Oedenberg said in her letter.

In May last year the European Commission outlined plans for a new EU Directive governing how orphan works should be archived by public organisations across Europe.

The Commission proposed that orphan works are digitised and made available online in all EU countries, regardless where the work originates from. The Commission previously said that it expected its Directive to be adopted during 2012 after consideration in the Parliament and by the Council of Ministers.