Friday 23 May 2014

EUScreenXL: Overcoming the copyright hurdle for access to European audiovisual heritage

Have you ever thought about the peculiar legal issues surround digitisation of EU audiovisual archives? Have you ever wondered whether there is any specific archive network of EU audiovisual archives and broadcasters? Wonder no further.

1709 Blog friend Erwin Verbruggen works as project lead at the Research and Development department of the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision, where he is involved in issues of digital access and preservation of audiovisual archives.

In this guest contribution, he explains what EUScreenXL is all about and what happened during the Strategic Workshop on IPR Issues for the Audiovisual Domain, that took place in The Hague on 13 May 2014:

"Making the sounds and images music cassettes, video tapes and film materials survive the ages requires a specific kind of care. Making them accessible requires a firm grasp on copyright rules and regulations. At conferences that involve audiovisual heritage - say, a 1918 version of Puss in Boots, or cameras tilting through landscapes past - one could interrupt any on-going conversation by saying: “But what about the copyright?” and leave the participants struggling to come to terms with it. 

A plethora of laws and exceptions apply audiovisual materials. The creation of the product always involved a wide amount of people. During their lifetime, companies may have changed ownership and contracts may have gone lost, were unclear from the beginning or never intended for use in a digital environment.

EUscreenXL is a network of audiovisual archives and public broadcasters all around Europe. All participants have a public mission: to inform and entertain the public of the Member States where they operate. Yet, these have increasingly had to find ways to fund their production or preservation activities by making use of the assets that their archives hold. For some this means that copyright equals part of their income - and free access is a potential danger to their livelihoods. Questions such as how long after an author’s death copyright should stay in place strike a sensitive nerve. Nonetheless, their mutual goal is to explore the different ways in which archives can make their holdings accessible. 

EUscreenXL is funded by the European Commission and one of the tasks of this network, covering all but a few EU Member States, is to explore how we can increase and beef up the availability of audiovisual heritage resources on the world wide web. An estimated 11,4 million hours of moving image materials are kept safely in vaults. Much of it has been digitised over the past decade - but far from all of it is and even fewer is accessible for general audiences throughout the continent. Initiatives have been piling up: the EUscreen portal, the European Film Gateway, archives experimenting with YouTube channels [such as Italian CinecittaLuce] … 

The EUscreen portal makes accessible a wide range of film and video materials that cover a wide range of events, culture, folklore, every day life and news items from Europe’s history. The project explores new ways of contextualising historical film and video materials, providing them with unified and clear background information and making them appealing to various kinds of users: researchers, educators, web surfers or creative industries. The project also wants to bring broadcasters and audiovisual collections closer to Europeana - a European effort from museums, libraries, galleries and archives who make their collections findable and accessible through a common platform.

There are, as loyal readers of this blog are well aware of, a number of copyright-related discussions and initiatives at the EU level that are currently being undertaken and are relevant to EU archives. For instance, EUscreenXL reported on the final licenses for Europe session, which had mixed outcomes for the audiovisual sector. The consortium also formulated a response to the recent EC’s consultation on copyright.  

Last week, 1709 Blog team member Eleonora attended the workshop organised by the project that explored how the network could contribute to the copyright debates and improve the accessibility of audiovisual heritage materials online. The workshop focused on the question: what can we, as a mixed group of rights holders, heritage keepers, and public media participants, do to propagate a wider availability of audiovisual materials online? And what are the main reasons why so little of our audiovisual heritage is accessible to users and creative industries online?

As a presenter Francisco Cabrera (European Audiovisual Observatoryreminded us that the stakes for copyright are all a matter of perspective. The outlook always depends on whom you ask to, and from what angle you approach, say, the discussion about term extension.

Eleonora put it aptly: bringing audiovisual works online is rarely, if ever, sooner said than done. Europe, with its fragmentary character, is tricky terrain to explore for archives in the digital realm. What is allowed in country A oversteps the rules of country B and so forth. The workshop participants enthusiastically embraced the image Eleonora borrowed from Prof Hugenholtz of Article 5 of the InfoSoc Directive working somewhat like a “shopping list” of exceptions and limitations that Member States can choose to implement into their national laws. 

Krisztina Rozgonyi (PRK Partners) presented a solution at a national level that led to the creation of Hungary’s national audiovisual archive, thanks to a media law policy developed over ten years ago. By means of secure VPN connections and established entry points in combination with a legal deposit regulation, it allows audiovisual archives to give unlimited, certified access to the nation’s television and film history to schools and educators.

The workshop gave the participants a chance to discuss what parameters could or should be moved to make navigating audiovisual cultural heritage a more manageable task, and whom should provoke and guide the moving. Different approaches were discussed. Some participants firmly believed in extending the country of origin principle. Coming from the broadcast world, where the Satellite Directive has been a starting point for discussions about cross-domain access, the European Broadcasting Union’s advocacy group firmly stands for the clarity of this sort of ruling. It is wary of the risks of further harmonisation of copyright. On the broad, general question whether or not an EU-wide copyright title should be pushed for, the general answer was that such an undertaking would at least take us 20 –30 years, well beyond the project term of EUscreenXL. It may well be beyond our project horizon, but the materials once carefully crafted by AV professionals and now responsibly taken care of by archive specialists, might still benefit. After all, it’s them who we hope to keep alive in 30, or 100, or 500 years from now, not us." 

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