Debating copyright in Strasbourg

Over 100 million library users in the EU: how can copyright reform help them?

On March 15th, the MEP Library Lovers group held a debate on EU copyright reform and its potential impact on libraries and cultural heritage institutions.  The debate was hosted by Therese Comodini Cachia MEP (JURI Committee Rapporteur) at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, and we were pleased to see many of her colleagues engaging in the debate.

image1Experts from libraries and cultural heritage institutions talked about how copyright reform could empower Europe’s over 100 million library users and address some of the challenges public libraries are currently facing in the EU.

MEP Library Lover Therese Comodini Cachia opened the session, highlighting the crucial role that libraries play in building strong local communities and a vibrant and inclusive European culture. She underlined her ambitious approach to the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market, for example by increasing the number of beneficiaries to the exception on Text and Data Mining. She recognised the importance of empowering cultural heritage institutions to digitise content and make it available so that all can benefit. She declared herself a proud member of the MEP Library Lovers Group and encouraged other MEPs to join.

The panel of speakers underlined the need for a change to allow on the premises access to digital works, cross-border document supply and mass digitisation of out of commerce works.

Ben White, Head of Intellectual Property at the British Library, presented the case for an update to the copyright exception on “dedicated terminals” – a notion introduced by the 2001 Copyright Directive and one which, 16 years after, is somewhat outdated.  He argued that library users should be allowed to access the library’s digital collection on the premises via secure networks but on their own devices, which makes sense for a society of smartphones and portable laptops.

Frédéric Blin, Director for Preservation and Heritage Collections at the National University Library of Strasbourg, pointed out that libraries are obliged to apply restrictive licenses, restraining access to knowledge and differentiating users based on country of residence, which is contrary to the principles of the EU. Cross-border document delivery among libraries is unfortunately still incredibly difficult.

Teresa Hackett, Copyright and Libraries Programme Manager for EIFL (Electronic Information for Libraries), focused on document supply and the need for a cross-border exception.  Ad-hoc cross-border document supply between libraries, for non-commercial purposes, is vital for research and makes total sense in our modern societies where the Internet has made access to information so much easier. As she said, content of historical value for some countries is often held in libraries in other countries, but the latter cannot legally provide information because the current copyright exception stops at the border.

Jan Muller
, Chairman of the Europeana Foundation, addressed the problem of out of commerce works and the difficulty of clearing rights for 20th century works, including an important range of documents that were never in commerce to begin with. Ultimately, digitisation is all about giving visibility to cultural heritage so, as Ben White added, if an adequate licence is not available, an exception for commercially unavailable material is necessary.

MEP Library Lover group sponsor, Catherine Stihler, concluded that Europe needs a better legal framework for libraries.  As IMCO Committee Rapporteur, she encouraged her colleagues to join her in this. She finally congratulated the speakers and organisers for their great work.
You can find more information about the position of the European library sector in our joint position paper here. This document was developed by EBLIDA, Europeana, IFLA, LIBER and Public Libraries 2020.