Members' Research Service By / November 25, 2014

The digitisation and digital preservation of European film heritage

Written by Anne Vernet October 27 is UNESCO World Day for Audiovisual Heritage , a commemoration of the adoption in…

© flas100/Fotolia
Written by Anne Vernet

October 27 is UNESCO World Day for Audiovisual Heritage , a commemoration of the adoption in 1980 of the Recommendation for the Safeguarding and Preservation of Moving Images , which for the first time recognised audiovisual and cinematographic works as an integral part of the world’s cultural heritage. This year’s theme was Archives at risk – much more to do . It aimed to raise general awareness of the need to take urgent measures ( 21% of European film works are held in archives and only 1.5% is digitised) and to acknowledge the importance of audiovisual documents, which capture the history, culture and identity of people.

The digitisation and digital preservation of European film heritage
© flas100/Fotolia

A month earlier, the Commission released its fourth report on implementation of the 2005 Recommendation on film heritage, which identifies barriers to film digitisation and online access, such as lack of funding (for every €97 invested by the public sector in the creation of new films, only €3 go to the preservation and digitisation of these films) and the high cost and complexity of copyright clearance ( press release ). Works that are still under copyright cannot be given access to or digitised without the authorisation of rightsholders, a significant portion of which are unknown or cannot be located (the issue is known as “orphan works”).

Europa Film Treasures, a VOD platform providing free access to restored rare films that used to be financed by the MEDIA programme , inexplicably shut down last year. Financial support for the preservation of film heritage is not included in the Media strand of the Creative Europe programme, though it supports “activities aimed at promoting film literacy and at increasing audiences’ knowledge of, and interest in, European audiovisual works, including the audiovisual and cinematographic heritage” (Regulation art. 10 ).

Through the Licences for Europe ‘s structured stakeholder dialogue, film heritage institutions and film producers reached an agreement last year aimed at digitising, restoring and making available European film heritage. This includes approaches for sharing the costs of digitisation and remuneration. The EU-funded FORWARD project will work on establishing an automated system to assess the rights’ status for all types of audiovisual works, including orphans.

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Protection of film heritage / DG CONNECT
The EU is tasked with encouraging its member countries to cooperate in conserving and safeguarding cultural heritage of European significance – including cinema. (TFEU art. 167 on preserving and safeguarding cultural heritage of European significance)
See also archived pages:

The EU and European Film Heritage – Presentation by Mari Sol Pérez Guevara, Legal officer in charge of Film Heritage, European Commission 23/1/2014.


Audiovisual Heritage 2.0. European Audiovisual Observatory, Iris Plus 2013-5 [EP access]
This issue describes the main lines of the recently amended Directive on the re-use of public sector information and retraces the most recent developments concerning digital preservation of cultural heritage at EU level.

Access to film heritage in the digital era – Challenges and opportunities / Jon Wengström, in Nordisk Kulturpolitisk Tidskrift ( Nordic Journal of Cultural Policy ) 16:1, 2013
Unlike archiving most other artifacts and objects, film preservation has always been heavily dependent on industry practice. The complicated and vast machinery involved in shooting, duplication, processing and projection of new films has been the same ones used for preserving and presenting film heritage. The recent shift from analogue to digital technology in capture, post-production and distribution of cinematographic works has led to the biggest challenges ever faced by the global archive community. The digitisation of heritage films has the potential of providing access on an unprecedented scale, as new platforms have emerged to facilitate access and the fact that digital copies are not subject to same wear and tear as analogue film elements. But there are severe financial, legal, curatorial and technological challenges to overcome in order to fulfil this potential. The industrial shift to digital technology has led not only to dwindling photochemical laboratory capacity, film stock supply and 35mm projection equipment, which threatens the preservation and access to film heritage in original formats, but also to declining demand for scanning equipment, resulting in the fact that the window of opportunity for high-quality digitisation of analogue films is already closing. Unless necessary funding is put in place very soon, 115 years of film heritage may become forever inaccessible in the future.

Survey Report on Digitisation in European Cultural Heritage Institutions / Natasha Stroeker, René Vogels (May 2012)
This first major study into the current state of digitisation in Europe is the result of a survey carried out by the ENUMERATE Thematic Network in 29 European countries. The survey asked questions about: the state of digitisation activity; access to digital collections; digital preservation strategy; expenditure of digitisation by the institution.

Challenges of the digital era for film heritage institutions – “Digital Agenda for European Film Heritage” (DAEFH) Final Report / Peacefulfish Productions Ltd for the European Commission, January 2012. Executive summary
The study focuses on the access to and preservation of European cinema, (feature films, documentaries, newsreels, narrative and non-fiction shorts, commercials, trailers, etc). Its remit was to provide the necessary background information, analysis of the situation and benchmarking, in order to produce practical proposals based on which policies and strategies can be defined and implemented by the Commission, the Member States and the Film Heritage Institutions (FHIs).

Screening Literacy – Film education / BFI June 2012. Country profiles based on responses to the European Film Literacy Survey conducted in 2012, which includes developing and understanding of film heritage (one of the objectives of the 2007 Communication on a European approach to media literacy in the digital environment is to achieve better awareness and knowledge about European film heritage).

Results of the Survey on Orphan Works 2009-2010 / European Association of Film Archives (2010)
The complexity of identifying the rights holder and the impossibility to follow the chain of rights across Europe has resulted in a huge amount of films with unknown rights held in ACE member archives. Key findings:

  • 21% of all film works held in the responding 24 film archives (ca. 225.000) may be considered orphans,
  • 45% of those considered orphans (ca. 100.000) could be available through the European Film Gateway (aggregator for the film heritage sector for Europeana) if a legal or pragmatic solution for rights clearing existed,
  • 55% of the requests for the use of orphan works are for cultural purposes, while 44 % of the requests are for commercial purposes,
  • 60% (ca. 135.000) of the orphans held in the respondents’ archives were produced before 1950,
  • 34% of the orphan works are non-fiction films. ( from: ACE Orphan Works Survey )

EU institutions

European Parliament

Online distribution of audiovisual works in the European Union (2011/2313(INI) – Jean-Marie Cavada
The resolution calls on the Commission to find mechanisms for encouraging access to archived audiovisual material held by Europe’s film heritage institutions. It notes that, “for reasons often linked to diminishing consumer appeal and limited shelf life, a substantial share of European audiovisual material is unavailable commercially”. Press release: Putting the spotlight on European cinema 11.9.2012

Digital cinema in the digital era (procedure file 2010/2306(INI) ) – Piotr Borys
The resolution stresses the importance of digital archiving in conserving and showing this national and European heritage ( press release )

EP studyEuropean cinema online – past and present / KEA European Affairs for Policy Department B, 2008
The study assesses the feasibility of establishing a pan-European film portal that could lead to more collaboration among film stakeholders in the EU and raise awareness regarding Europe’s cinematographic legacy.

European Commission

Film Heritage Recommendation and implementation reports
The 2005 Recommendation on film heritage and the competitiveness of related industrial activities calls for Europe’s film heritage to be systematically collected, catalogued, preserved and restored so that it can be passed on to future generations.

It has been completed by the 2011 Commission Recommendation on the digitisation and online accessibility of cultural material and digital preservation , which targets all cultural institutions (including film heritage institutions) and promotes access and re-use for commercial and non-commercial purposes of digitised materials in the public domain.

EU countries are asked to inform the Commission every two years of what they have done in connection with the Recommendation. Four implementation reports have been published so far:

Cinema expert group / subgroup film heritage
The Cinema expert group gathers experts from all film archives in the Europe to exchange best practices and look for common solutions to their problems. It meets once a year (see archived page for previous activities). See Digital heritage – Funding opportunities 2014-2020 / Gudrun Stock – Meeting of 27/28 November 2013.

Licences for Europe
Licenses for Europe is a stakeholder dialogue in the area of copyright and digital content launched by the Commission following its 2012 Communication on Content in the Digital Single Market. Its objective is to foster practical industry-led solutions to bring more copyright-protected content online in the Digital Single Market.
In the area of film heritage, the Commission’s objective is to facilitate the deposit and online accessibility of films in the EU both for commercial purposes and non-commercial cultural and educational uses. It remains difficult for online service providers to develop catalogues of European films for online availability, particularly those which are “out-of-distribution” i.e. works whose rights holders are unwilling or unable to exploit on an individual basis: it may be difficult to identify the existence of films, or the rights may be complex and time-consuming to clear. The results of the dialogue were presented in November 2013 ( press release and FAQ ).

The Audiovisual and film heritage working group gathers audiovisual sector and Cultural Heritage institutions and aims to deliver concrete solutions for both commercial and non-commercial uses. The working group delivered:

Communication from the Commission on. State aid for films and other audiovisual works 14 November 2013. This re-vamped legal instrument lays down the rules by which the EU judges whether or not European film funds comply with EU state aid rules. The new Cinema Communication also emphasises the importance of film heritage objectives linked to the collection, preservation and accessibility of European films. Member States should encourage and support producers to deposit a copy of aided works for preservation and specified non-commercial use. Frequently asked questions and press release .

The Framework agreement to establish procedures for voluntary deposit of films with preservation archives concluded in 2009 between the International Federation of Film Producers Associations (FIAPF) and the Association of European Film Libraries / Cinématheques (ACE) regulates: Conditions of deposit; Initiative for preservation and restoration; Access and use by the Producer and the Archive and Permanent withdrawal. The European Commission DG Information Society and Media supported the negotiations between the parties.


Council Conclusions on film heritage, including the challenges of the digital era 18-19 November 2010.

Recommendation 2005/865/CE of 16 November 2005 on film heritage and the competitiveness of related industrial activities .

Council Resolution of 24 November 2003 on the deposit of cinematographic works in the European Union .

Council Resolution of 26 June 2000 on the conservation and enhancement of European cinema heritage .

International organisations

UNESCO World Day for Audiovisual Heritage In 2005 UNESCO declared October 27 as the World Day for AV Heritage to raise awareness of the significance of AV documents and to draw attention to the need to safeguard them. It was first celebrated in 2009 .

Recommendation for the Safeguarding and Preservation of Moving Images , 1980. Moving images are representative of the cultural identity of a people and as such have historic, cultural, and artistic value. The Recommendation notes the extreme vulnerability of moving images because of the materials they are composed of and the need to maintain them under very specific technical conditions.

Stakeholder views

European Association of Film Archives (ACE)

A digital agenda for film archives / Thomas C. Christensen and Mikko Kuutti (2012)
This paper describes the challenges of the digital turn and discusses the role of the archives in this process. Compared to analogue preservation, digital archiving requires very different workflows, technologies and skills. While most of the traditional analogue tasks will continue, film archives must also be prepared to perform proper digital archiving. This has impact on many levels such as curatorship, screening, preservation, distribution and access, training, funding, and legal issues.

FIAF – International Federation of Film Archives

Digitisation for Film Archives – Assorted Complications / FIAF Technical Commission, 2012
This paper provides an overview of the technical challenges involved in the digitisation of film archive. See also their Guidance papers .

Principles of Digital Archiving (ca 2012)
This paper sets out the high-level principles of digital archiving. It does not give specific recommendations for formats, hardware, or applications, but instead sets out the fundamental elements required by a digital archive, so that archives are able to assess the suitability of specific solutions and approaches, and plan the resources and funding needed to set up and sustain their systems.

Journal of film preservation
JFP is published by FIAF twice a year. It offers a forum for both general and specialized discussions on all theoretical, technical and historical aspects of moving image archival activities. Articles are written in English, French or Spanish, with summaries in the other two languages.

EU projects

EFG – The European Film Gateway . Provides access to thousands of film historical documents (documentaries, newsreels and feature films, but also film stills, set photos, posters, film set drawings and text documents) as preserved in 16 European film archives and cinémathèques.The European Film Gateway is one of two aggregator projects from the audiovisual sector to deliver content to the Europeana portal, which in turn provides integrated access to millions of digital treasures from Europe’s museums, archives, audiovisual archives and libraries.

Filmarchives online provides free and easy access to moving image collections of film archives from all over Europe. Via the multi-lingual web gateway, film works can be searched for by content, filmographic data and physical characteristics. Search results provide information on existence and location of the materials as well as contact details to facilitate access. It is the result of the MIDAS (Moving Image Database for Access and Re-use of European Film Collections) project that ran from 2006 to 2009 as a pilot project in the MEDIA Plus programme.

FORWARD – Rights Registry for Audiovisual and Orphan Works . FORWARD is a three-year EU funded project (2013-2016) aiming at creating a EU wide, automated system to assess the rights’ status for all types of audiovisual works, including orphans. The system will search, harvest and process the information that is necessary to define the rights status of an audiovisual work. This way, cultural institutions, commercial entities and all potential users will get a clear indication whether a work is in public domain or in-copyright, and in this case, whether it is orphan, and under which conditions it can be used across Europe. FORWARD will take into account all national legislations deriving from the application of the Directive 2012/28/EU on Orphan Works .

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