Europeana press release. The Hague – May 25th, 2010.

Europeana.eu, Europe’s digital library, museum and archive, has published the Public Domain Charter. The Charter has been drawn up by the Europeana Foundation, Europeana’s governing body, which is supported by the European Commission. It’s based on the belief that:

  • The Public Domain must be preserved.
  • A healthy Public Domain is essential to the social and economic wellbeing of society.
  • Digitisation of Public Domain knowledge does not create new rights over it.

Europeana is publishing the Charter because the Public Domain is under threat. As Public Domain information is digitised, it is often becoming less accessible to those who own it: the public. Policy-makers and funding bodies need to consider the implications of removing information from the Public Domain and the knock-on effect this has for creative enterprise, learning, research and the knowledge economy.

When Public Domain material changes format from a book or a picture to a digital file it must not leave the Public Domain. What has been held in trust for the public for generations, often at taxpayers’ expense, should not enter the private sector when it is digitised.

“A healthy and thriving Public Domain is vital for education, science, cultural heritage and public sector information. No society can afford to put up barriers to information access in today’s knowledge-based economies.” – Elisabeth Niggemann, national librarian of Germany and Chair of the Europeana Foundation.

Notes:

What is the Public Domain?

  • The out of copyright information that people can freely use without restriction
  • Information that rights holders have decided to remove barriers to access
  • Much of the world’s knowledge – the paintings of Leonardo, Newton’s Laws of Motion, Diderot’s Encyclopédie – is in the Public Domain.

Why is it important?

  • Society constantly re-uses and reinterprets material in the Public Domain and by doing so develops new ideas, inventions and cultural works.
  • The internet gives access to the heritage of previous ages on an unparallelled scale. It has accelerated the rate of innovation and the creativity of new ideas and applications.
  • Access to Public Domain information lies at the heart of Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits”.

Why publish the Charter?

The Charter is a policy statement, not a contract. It doesn’t bind any of Europeana’s content providers. It recognises the dilemma in which heritage collections find themselves. Their drive to digitise and make Public Domain content accessible is tempered by a recognition of the costs involved, and the need to arrive at the most appropriate agreements with those who are willing and able to fund digitisation programmes – including the private sector.

However, it is necessary to label the rights associated with a digitised item very clearly so that they are understood by Europeana’s users, who will be able to exclude content from their results that requires payment or doesn’t comply with the Public Domain Charter. Rights labelling will become a requirement when submitting content to Europeana by the end of this year.

While Public-Private Partnerships are an important means of getting content digitised, the Charter recommends that deals are non-exclusive, for very limited time periods, and don’t take material out of the Public Domain.

The Public Domain Charter is published in support of the recent Public Domain Manifesto. The Manifesto is a statement made from the content users’ perspective. Communia, who have published it, represent education and research, consumer agencies, technology developers and think tanks.

Europeana, and its governing body, the Europeana Foundation, support the principal aspirations of the Manifesto. The Charter represents the position of the content holders – the organisations that are entrusted with the safe keeping of Europe’s Public Domain content.

The Public Domain Charter is available in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Polish.

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