Thursday 10 March 2011

European orphans: a Commission leader speaks

Every copyright work was
somebody's child once ...
Hot off the press is European Commission Vice-President and IP-non-enthusiast Neelie Kroes's address today in Brussels to IFRRO (the International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organisations) on the occasion of the launch of ARROW+ (Accessible Registries of Rights Information and Orphan Works towards Europeana).  Neelie (who is responsible for the Digital Agenda) may never have said this, since the text of the Europa media release below was issued ahead of her live performance. But here it is anyway:
"Ladies and Gentlemen,

Europeans like the internet; this is obviously a reflection of our open and diverse societies. Europeans have embraced ICT and we will continue to do so in the digital age.

Yet, I believe Europe can offer much more to the cyber-world: by digitising and putting online our rich cultural heritage – and to start with, our authors' books.

However, before putting our libraries collections online, we also know that there are some legal and financial obstacles to overcome. If we let things go, there is a serious risk that there will be a "20th century black hole" on the internet. It is a duty of our time not to let this happen.

Today's celebration of ARROW's achievements and of the next phase of the project is more than an important step in the right direction. I believe we can make it an ambitious central element to solve this problem.

Indeed, in my view, the work you are doing is vital and I want to outline how I see it as fitting into the wider strategy of the EU for the digital age.

What is at stake?

The Digital Agenda for Europe, our ICT policy agenda through to 2020, would simply not be complete if we ignored the content dimension of our vision for the future. Internet is eager for high quality content from reliable sources.

ARROW offers a practical solution to several challenges identified in the Digital Agenda. First, there is the aim of building a common digital market. Second, there is of course also the development of Europeana, the European digital library, to make sure it can become the reference point for Europe's digital culture online.

For the moment only a very small percentage of the material accessible through Europeana is in-copyright material. That should change. And one of the key problems to solve in order to make that happen is the orphan works problem. Indeed, depending on the sector concerned, estimates of the number of orphan works in cultural institutions vary from around 20% for films and slightly less for books, at the low end, to up to 90% for photography at the high end. That is a truly staggering figure, which shows up one of the massive difficulties in applying theory of copyright in practice.

The British library estimates that 40% of works in their collections are orphan and over 1 million hours of TV programmes from BBC archives are not used due to the impossibility or the disproportionate cost to trace rightholders – and the risk of a subsequent legal action is simply too great for this material to be made available online.

That uncertainly benefits neither the rightholders who cannot be traced, nor the creative industries or the wider public.

In other words, we must move away from the current playing field for specialists in copyright law. It is high time to understand that, while the US is looking for solutions through complex judicial means, Europe should move forward and find innovative practical solutions for tapping the huge treasures of our culture for citizens and businesses alike.

Perspectives for an orphan works Directive

As you know, the Commission is working on a proposal for a Directive for orphan works. It should ensure that orphan works can be digitised and used in the information society in projects such as Europeana.

At the same time it must offer guarantees for the rights holders that their legitimate interests are respected. We are currently discussing the modalities, and I must say that the work of the Comité des Sages on bringing Europe's cultural heritage online has set down a number of clear markers. And that includes the need to support the instrument through rights information databases such as ARROW and link it more directly to Europeana.

Indeed, rights information systems which enable swift, accurate and comprehensive searches for rights and rightholders are critical in this process. By ensuring transparency on rights and recording works identified as orphans or out-of-distribution, they ensure we can avoid costly duplication of searches.

For our economy and for our culture, we need therefore to act urgently to solve the problems posed by orphan works. These problems affect print works, photographs and audiovisual, and we'll need to find a solution for all the sectors, in particular through improving the information available.

What is expected from ARROW?

That is the fascinating aspect of the project you are working on. It is about laying the basis for new economic activity and at the same time huge cultural benefits for our age. It can contribute to what the Comité des Sages on digitisation recently called 'the new Renaissance'.

I have a vision: One search in ARROW should be all you should need to determine the copyright status of a cultural good in Europe. If it were embedded in the forthcoming Directive on orphan works, ARROW could become the official portal in Europe where you can find essential rights information and do automated searches of rightholders and copyrights. In the medium-term, it could cover all European print works (books, magazines, etc.) in the EU, and afterwards – why not? – also photographic and audiovisual works.

ARROW should become a one-stop shop for determining, easily and quickly, with full legal certainty, whether a work is orphan or not, out-of-distribution or not, and so on.

For this to be achieved, the system must continue to be run, on a consensual basis, by all the relevant stakeholders. It has to provide comprehensive pan-European coverage of the rights and rightholders involved. Where the cultural infrastructure is not yet in place, we will need to find ways and means to do it. I also expect that ARROW will be able to scale up in order to deal with non-text material. In the short term that means material like visual works and illustrations, but in the long term it could mean more.

So that is the ambition and the goal to be reached in the coming years.

You have reached some promising results already. The collaboration which you have put in place in this project includes publishers, libraries and collecting societies. This is the right approach. Of course, ARROW is still in a validation phase, but its potential is huge. You are leading the way in showing how larger groups of stakeholders can work together to form a new digital future. That's exactly what we need to get "Every European piece of European culture digital"".
Readers' comments are invited. This author's own comment relates to his fascination with the methodology for assessing the number of works in a collection which are deemed "orphans". Do European archival and other institutions share a common definition of "orphan" and the same way of testing it in respect of the millions of works held by them? It would be good to know.


Andrew Robinson said...

I'm continally amazed at the complexity of most solutions proposed to the orphan works problem, and the discussions about what is and isn't an orphan work, when a very simple answer exists. Dramatically cutting the length of copyright(and making it a fixed term rather than dependent on the death date of the last surviving co-contributor) would deal with this issue very neatly.

Throw in a non-commercial copying exemption, and either a prohibition on DRM technology, or a legal right to decode, and you'd allow archives and museums to preserve content until such time as copyright on it expires and they can make use of it.

John R walker said...

Bernnard Langs
Orphan Works and the Google Book Search Settlement: An International Perspective

Lang is really worth reading on this ; Being a scientist , he is by training naturally sharp on classification- 'clade'- issues.

The term "Orphan works" is generally used to group together things that have very little in common . This sort of classification confusion will always end in serious confusion as to exactly ,what, is being discussed.