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Private investment can help fund rapid digitisation of cultural works, Commission says

Out-Law News | 01 Nov 2011 | 10:56 am | 3 min. read

The European Commission has called on private investors to help fund the "digitisation" of books, journals, audiovisual content and other "cultural material" in the EU.

The Commission said that converting material into content available digitally would secure the EU's "cultural heritage" and urged member states to help "stimulate" investment from the private sector to help achieve this quickly.

"The online accessibility of cultural material will make it possible for citizens throughout Europe to access and use it for leisure, studies or work," the Commission said in its published recommendation. (11-page / 44KB PDF)

"It will give Europe’s diverse and multilingual heritage a clear profile on the internet, and the digitisation of their assets will help Europe’s cultural institutions to continue carrying out their mission of giving access to and preserving our heritage in the digital environment," it said.

"In order to make rapid progress on the digitisation of our cultural heritage, public funding for digitisation needs to be complemented by private investment. Therefore, the Commission encourages public-private partnerships for the digitisation of cultural material. It calls on the Member States to stimulate such partnerships," it said.

The Commission said it wants EU member states to help fill Europeana, Europe's digital library, with 30 million "objects" by 2015, with at least 2 million works comprising audiovisual material. Europeana currently contains 19 million digitised cultural works but would benefit from more audio and video content in particular, the Commission said.

Member states should ensure that any public funding they issue to help with digitisation is "conditional" on the material being available via Europeana, whilst all "public domain masterpieces" should also be accessible through the digital library by 2015, the Commission said.

"The availability of all public domain masterpieces (key cultural or historical works and objects, as determined and selected by the member states) through Europeana will enrich the content of the site, in line with the expectations of the users," the Commission said.

"Provisions in the member states ensuring that all material digitised with public funding is made available through Europeana would boost the development of the platform and create a clear framework for the content contribution by cultural institutions, and the introduction of such provisions should therefore be encouraged," it said.

Material where the copyright protection has expired and that is free for the public to use and access should remain free and accessible after digitisation, the Commission said. It said member states should promote "the widest possible access to digitised public domain material as well as the widest possible re-use of the material for non-commercial and commercial purposes". The Commission also called on member states to limit the use of "intrusive" watermarks on public domain works.

The Commission wants EU member states to conduct a consultation on the implementation of new laws on 'orphan works' prior to the laws being adopted "in order to facilitate a rapid implementation". In May the Commission proposed a new Directive governing how 'orphan works' should be archived by public bodies across the EU.

Orphan works are copyrighted material, such as books, films and music, which have no identified owner. The Commission proposed that orphan works are digitised and made available online in all EU countries, regardless where the work originates from.

EU member states should also create the "legal framework conditions" that would allow cross-border licensing arrangements to be agreed for digitised out-of-print works. Out-of-print works are works that are copyright-protected but are either no longer being published or are not generally available to the public. In September the Commission established key principles around the digitising of out-of-print books. The principles include that all licensing agreements should be negotiated on a voluntary basis and define how the works can be commercially and non-commercially used, whilst it must "stipulate the author's right to claim authorship of the work, to acknowledge this authorship when known, and the author's right to object to any distortion, mutilation or other modification of his work," it said.

The Commission wants member states to set "clear quantitative targets for the digitisation of cultural material" and indicate the content which could be contained in Europeana and collaborate with other EU countries to "establish an overview" of digitised works.

EU countries should also set national laws that allow digitised material to be re-copied in order to preserve the content when current technology becomes obsolete, the Commission said. It also urged the member states to enable copyright holders to be able to deposit works with libraries in digital format in a way that would enable them re-copy the material "for preservation purposes" and said "mandated institutions" should be given permission to preserve "web-content".

"Europe has probably the world's greatest cultural heritage," Neelie Kroes, vice-president of the Commission's Digital Agenda said in a statement.

"It cannot afford to miss the opportunities offered by digitisation and hence face cultural decline. Digitisation brings culture into people's homes and is a valuable resource for education, tourism games, animation and the whole creative industry. Investing in digitisation will create new companies and generate new jobs," Kroes said.