By / June 15, 2012

Making Copyright Work for Libraries and Consumers

Only 50 MEPS out of the more than 750 are aware of the existence of something called “copyright”. These were…

© Horia Varlan
© Horia Varlan

Only 50 MEPS out of the more than 750 are aware of the existence of something called “copyright”. These were the remarkable introductory observations made by MEP Marietje Schaake, (NL, ALDE) also called “Europe’s most wired politician” who hosted a conference on the subject on Wednesday 30th May at the European Parliament in Brussels. 

Ms Schaake further declared she is a convinced supporter of rewarding and incentivizing creators of cultural, artistic or literary content. Arts and culture are essential in open societies. “A strong culture develops when we can all build on these works and use them for enjoyment, study or invention.

Marietje Schaake
MEP Marietje Schaake (NL, ALDE)

The internet offers a great platform for cultural diversity, because it democratizes the cultural process, instead of leaving some gatekeepers in charge to decide which works are mass-marketable. It is also possible to bring content to users at a lower price, as long as there are no disrupting measures in the way.” 

The event focused on the role of libraries in providing access to cultural works, and how copyright can be made more consumer-friendly in the digital age. In the audience were Members of the European Parliament, European Commission staff, and European librarians, consumer organizations, NGOs and trade associations. 

Kai Ekholm
Kai Ekholm

The morning session was opened by Kai Ekholm of the National Library of Finland who gave a keynote presentation on the challenges of the new book economy for libraries, addressing such issues as eBook lending, monopolies in the publishing sector, and the need for new funding and market solutions to let libraries carry out their function in the digital age. Representatives from different library organisations then participated in a panel discussion (presided by singer-songwriter-producer Martyn Ware) aimed at explaining why libraries could be helped by updated copyright limitations and exceptions which can cope with today’s digital environment.

Martyn Ware
Martyn Ware

Maria Martin-Prat of the European Commission stated that in the past libraries have not been present in Brussels to add their voice to those of other lobbyists, but she admitted that the situation had changed in the recent past and libraries were now offering valuable opinions. The representative of the Danish Trade Union representing 4000 library and information specialists, Pernille Drost, started off with a paradox: “the more digital the world gets, the less the information is accessible”.

Pernille Drost
Pernille Drost

She stressed that copyright as such is no library problem. It is a purely societal issue that should be tackled by politicians. Libraries do not oppose copyright as such, but they want workable solutions

The afternoon session focused on the confusion that consumers feel when faced with  complex, legalistic arguments whilst doing seemingly inoffensive things like  recording TV shows for later viewing, backing-up purchased digital downloads, or quoting from a book in a school assignment. While these uses may be tolerated by rights holders, their lawfulness varies from country to country. The unfortunate result of all this is frustration at copyright law in general. Some participants clearly pointed out that copyright law didn’t fit the digital era at all and belonged definitively to the past. 

What became clear throughout the afternoon’s debates was that both libraries and consumers are operating in very grey areas when it comes to the use of copyrighted materials. While music was the main subject, there was also time for panelists to discuss whether libraries should pay license fees to read aloud to children at story time. 

An interested audience

The overall conclusion of the day was that both the ways consumers use digital information, and the ways users want to access digital information through libraries, seem out of step with current copyright frameworks. The European Union is now taking steps to tackle the issue. The European Commission is considering important changes to legislation such as the directive on orphan works, public sector information and reform of collecting societies. The debates made it clear that library and consumer groups have to stay present and engaged at national and international levels in order to persuade policymakers of the value of appropriate copyright rules that favor the public interest. 

Click here to find out more about Copyright Limitations and Exceptions for Libraries & Archiveson IFLA’s website.

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