EBU critical of European copyright modernization

European legislation to modernize copyright for the digital age has been criticized by the EBU for failing to take account of cross border rights issues relating to Internet distribution of video and audio content.

The EU has been moving slowly towards updating copyright regulations for multimedia content and harmonizing them across all member states, with the first step being theDirective on Orphan Works, which received its first reading in the European Parliament on September 13. Orphan works are defined as creative multimedia content including photographs, books, music, films, and certain TV productions whose rights holders cannot be identified or contacted.

The EBU’s Director General Ingrid Deltenre welcomed this Directive as the “first step forward in a series of initiatives to find rights management solutions that ease the online circulation of cultural content all over Europe, and fully respect rights holders’ interests.”

But, she has endorsed an EBU statement regretting that this Directive fails to provide a clear mechanism for licensing valuable television and radio archive material across the continent. Rights clearance systems are needed to unlock this valuable cultural heritage, and enable Europeans to access this important part of their history on the Internet, the EBU added.

Deltenre called for various further practical measures to boost Europe’s creative economy, such as technology-neutral licensing systems for the transmission of programmes in the digital environment, legal certainty for broadcasters’ online services across borders, and the cross-border recognition of national rights-management solutions.

“Public service media have all engaged in ambitious digitization plans and have invaluable radio and audiovisual archive material to bring to the public," Deltenre said. "Until now, regrettably, these archives cannot be fully released as rights clearance procedures do not take account of broadcasters' Internet-based services.”

It is only recently that online access to such archives has become technically possible in any case. Now, Europe has a major project called EUscreen, which is promoting use of television content to explore Europe's cultural history. It is creating access to over 30,000 items of program content and information, and working with the Europeana portal, which is a single access point to books, paintings, films, museum objects, and archival records that have been digitized throughout Europe.

The new development is a set of tools designed for online exhibitions, enabling insertion of multimedia materials from different archives and content providers. The aim is to enable users to find original items more easily, share links, and get in touch with the content providers themselves. According to the EBU, its EBUCore metadata standards are making this possible, through the use of common metadata across the various archives that feed into the project.

But, now having done the technical work, the EUscreen and Europeana projects are being threatened by lack of cross border rights mechanisms that allow for distribution of orphan content across borders. The need is for rights negotiated in one country to apply automatically in another. The EU’s failure to include this in its first Directive can be explained partly by sensitivity over the whole issue of orphan works.

The word orphan itself is misleading because it implies that the works it applies to are relatively rare. In fact most photographs and illustrations circulating around the Internet, as well as a lot of archive film material, are technically orphans in that the creators cannot readily be located. The burden of attempting to contact authors of orphan works could be prohibitive under the EU rules being proposed, and that could prevent Europe unlocking its digital archives.