Thursday 27 January 2011

The New Renaissance

In April last year the European Commission commissioned a reflection group (‘comité des sages’) to make recommendations for bringing Europe’s cultural heritage online. The Comité has now delivered their report, ‘The New Renaissance’.

As well as looking forward to EU orphan works legislation, the Comité would like to avoid future orphan works by introducing registration for copyright. ‘Refreshing’ the Berne Convention is in order. ‘Creative production is exploding online (e.g. user-generated content) without a clear indication of how to contact the creator…’

They would like to see all out-of-distribution works digitized even if they are not orphans. If right owners don’t want to exploit, digitization should be paid for with public money. ‘It may be necessary to collectively manage the rights to older out of distribution works’ with remuneration for rights holders and the possibility to opt out. They believe that the primary responsibility must rest with the public sector, though in partnership with the private sector with up to 7 years preferential use by private partners.

According to the report:
‘The ease with which today’s users can access big search engines and platforms and find an overwhelming offer of information, books, newspapers, websites, archival material, pictures, music or movies naturally leads to expectations towards cultural institutions. Accustomed to the comfort of search engines and new services, they expect to find everything on the web. “What is not on the web, does not exist” is the core of their belief and behaviour. What is on the shelves, in the archives, in the exhibition halls of cultural institutions will soon fall into oblivion, if it is not digitised and offered alongside the born digital works and all the other internet services.’
It seems that in the New Renaissance people will never travel to exotic places to see real works of art (to be astonished by their size or mesmerized by their brushstrokes). They will work as scanning-machine engineers, obesity doctors or information-overload therapists. And one day someone at the central cultural website Europeana will finish reading the last Mills & Boon novel, inspecting the last photograph of a coin and watching the last episode of Coronation Street and in a moment of joyous liberation he will reach for the big Delete button … and the Renaissance will slide peacefully back into the Dark Ages.


John R walker said...

"they expect to find everything on the web“What is not on the web, does not exist” is the core of their belief and behaviour."

Who exactly was this 'they' that said :“What is not on the web, does not exist”?
What was the context, what was the question ?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the query, John.

'They' is 'today's users' - see para 5.1.2 on page 16 of the report.

The perceived issue the Comite was addressing, I think, was 'tackling the risk of a "20th century black hole" in Europeana and on the Internet in general'. They believe that failure to display on the internet in-copyright material that is out of distribution will be 'misleading' and 'dangerous'.

I wonder if they realize that there is a reason why material goes out of distribution - the demand has dried up. Most books go out of print within a year and I guess the same is true of songs etc.

Of course there is much more 20th century material that can be retrieved than from previous centuries. You could say that putting it all on the internet is also misleading, leading to a 20th century imbalance. It will arguably result in perpetuating dangerous quantities of rubbish that society has sensibly decided it can do without. Even museum curators do not attempt to add everything ever made to their collections - they'd end up with a landfill site not a museum.

Having said that, I'm not against this material being accessible on the internet at some stage but I find the Comite's panic slightly pathological. Civilization and anal retentiveness is not the same thing.

Technology often makes human beings think that because they have the ability to do something, they must do it. But that doesn't always follow. The impetus just to make the internet bigger and bigger is, I think, something people should stop and question every now and again.

John R walker said...

Hugo .
I agree, particularly about the 'moral panic' quality .

I can find no statement of the scientific methodology - i.e the sampling method(s) and statistical procedures used, to survey and profile 'today's users' wants. Can You?

Did you notice this phrase:
"‘It may be necessary to collectively manage the rights to older out of distribution works’ "?
Might it be that the "necessary"(i.e compulsory), collective management spoken of , could involve new employment opportunities , for appropriately qualified people ?

Did you notice this phrase about 'out of distribution' right holders :"remuneration for rights holders and the possibility to opt out"

Books are mostly out of distribution for good reasons ; lack of public interest.
I would assume that this proposal would also involve employing people( at public expense) to effect the "remuneration" of out of demand rights holders.

I once naively thought that copyright rewarded the unusual; the rare and successful . I was wrong .

John R walker said...


"'misleading' and 'dangerous'. "

Misleading .... dangerous to what?
Any ideas?

Anonymous said...

No, I can’t see how they have reached this unprecedented insight into the core of today’s users’ belief. I would say (a) there is loads about the 20th century on the internet, (b) people aren’t as daft the Comité think and (c) if they are that daft, it is the job of education to teach children about the limitation of information sources (it’s a basic skill, internet or no internet). Even if we put everything we have on the internet, if people thought that it was comprehensive, then that would mean they believe that there have hardly ever been any poor people, women or children because we have relatively few of their writings over the past centuries.

There is certainly a question over whether this is a good use of public money – especially as it involves creating private monopolies. Google has more than 15 million book scans ready, so presumably it can offer the EU a good price and would be first in line. If so it would be rewarded for the biggest copyright infringement in history by being granted exclusive rights in the EU – paid for out of taxpayers’ money.

John R walker said...


In Australian terms, the sages idea is is a make-work scheme ; a redundant bit of extra management (and costs ) imposed on something that is happening anyway.

There are people scanning libraries every where.
Scanners that can scan lots of books quickly used to cost a lot, they can now be bought for a few hundred dollars. The Idea of a monopoly is an Eldorado idea.
(Daniel Reetzs, The Why in DIY Book Scanning , Part of the New York Law School Law Reviews "D is for Digitize" is worth a read)

The Google Books court case has been going on for years and there is no sign of it 'collapsing to a binary conclusion' just yet.

The Question : Who exactly is 'represented' by the quotes in the sages reports? Is germane to the foundation of the legal action that created the court case
The case rests upon the ,by now rather contested, claim that the "American Authors Guild" has Class Representative Status for all authors.

John R walker said...

The Questions were based on this observation:
The licensing collective 'mind' is based in belief that they alone truly represent the class of 'artists' (or other similar clade's ).
The granting of official mandated status as 'representative of all artists' is not for them, primarily a economic benefit. It is primarily an emotional benefit; It is the granting of official recognition as the 'representative typical artist' . It is this deep and unsatisfiable ,hunger for recognition as 'artists' that explains the 'outrageous' misrepresentations , irrationality, circularity and panic that they often exhibit.

Anonymous said...

Hi, John - I'm not sure that I follow you. It seems to me that the Comite isn't acting on behalf of artists/authors. It believes that it is acting for society generally by making as much material as possible available on the internet. I do have a concern that it is totally focused on promoting the EU-sponsored web portal Europeana and is basically building all it's copyright law policy recommendations around that one project. Government is there to serve people generally and rewriting laws solely for the benefit of the legislature's pet project looks wobbly to me.

John R walker said...

Hugo, I agree. It is very wobbly.
The amount of material being scanned around the world at the moment is growing exponentially. The limiter is not copyright, it is the supply of labour. It is very hard to see either the necessity or the community benefit of The Renaissance proposal. It does have the appearance of a narrowly focussed, pet project; specifically a myopic focus strongly favouring just one particular approach to copyright management - compulsory collective licencing.

In Jeremy's report he quotes the committee as saying
"It may be necessary to collectively manage the rights to older out-of-distribution works... "

In my experience of expert committees and copyright collective agencies, they are often very closely intertwined. In one particular case, the founding father of an Australian visual arts collection agency, has had a long, professional career providing expert policy advice to various governments. His advice has often been unconsciously coloured by his understandable interest in the viability of the organisation he was a founding father of.

I would suggest that if you checked carefully the peer groups that these experts committees are drawn from, you would find many examples of people who are closely involved with collection societies.

John R walker said...

Hugo, I would like to draw your attention to an article by Bernard Lang in the recent New York Law School Review No.55 D for Digitise issue. Lang's article is entitled: 'Orphan works and Google Book Search Settlement: An international perspective'. Lang, being French, brings a very useful background and depth of knowledge regarding analysing numerous variations of things like the Renaissance Project. I particularly draw your attention to pp.125-126, 'Exceptions and Limitations, the 3 step test'.

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