A potentially incendiary EU report released today recommends making changes to the Berne Convention – and creating several new layers of bureaucracy in order to deal with the digitisation of cultural stuff. Creators would have to “opt-in” to a new database before getting their rights, which have historically been guaranteed by Berne signatories since 1886.
Berne is administered by the UN quango World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and changes are made only every few generations – it was last amended in 1979. Undaunted, a committee of “wise men” (actually, just three people) reporting to the EU’s Information Society initiative i2010 Digital Libraries Initiative has recommended “some form of registration as a precondition for a full exercise of rights” [Our emphasis].
The problem? Berne establishes most parts of copyright as an automatic, global right. Unravelling this would undermine the entire treaty – which isn’t likely.
The report by the “Comité des Sages” was welcomed by Neelie Kroes, European Commission Vice-President for the Digital Agenda. The Sages comprising the “high level reflection group” were Maurice Lévy, chairman and CEO of advertising and PR company Publicis, German libraricrat Elisabeth Niggemann, and Belgian playwright Jacques De Decker.
The trio urged states to implement new legislation on collective licensing, obliging commercial copyright holders to donate work which would be made available for free. Rights-holders of in-copyright works would be remunerated “fairly” and would retain the ability to opt-out of the EU-wide database.
While the report encourages “public-private” partnerships there’s little incentive for rights-holders to stump up for the expensive process of digitisation – deals would be non-exclusive and “preferential” terms would expire after seven years. Copies of everything would have to be lodged with Europeana, the EU digital library project estimated to cost €400m when it’s complete.
The strangest recommendations in the Sages’ report are reserved for orphan works. They declare that:
“An orphan work recognised as such in one Member State on the basis of a search in the country of origin, should be recognised as orphan across the EU.” Similarly, “an orphan work that is made accessible online in one Member State should also be made accessible online in all Member States or even globally.”
So expect to see Albania suddenly lose all the metadata it has ever possessed on Norman Wisdom films*.
* This is, of course, a joke. Albania is not yet an EU member…