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9th May 2021

EU deal moves toward pan-European copyright rules

  • A common EU copyright regime is closer following a deal between MEPs and ministers. (Photo: Helena Spongenberg)

The EU is moving towards a system of common copyright rules after a deal on so-called "orphan works" was reached by MEPs and ministers on Wednesday (6 June).

"Orphan works" include photos, films or pieces of writing which are covered by copyright but where the right holder cannot be found. Under the deal agreed by MEPs with the Danish Presidency, museums, libraries and individuals would have easier access to orphan works.

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According to the text, which now requires the approval of the Parliament's Legal Affairs committee followed by a full plenary vote, a work would be deemed to be orphan if, after a "diligent" search, it was not possible to identify or locate the copyright holder. The draft legislation lays down criteria for carrying out the search, with the rights holder having the power to put an end to the orphan status of a work at any time and be compensated for its use. However, in a bid to avoid a public library or museum facing crippling compensation costs to authors re-claiming a work, compensation would be low in cases of non-commercial use.

Public institutions would be able to generate revenue from using an unclaimed work to pay for search and digitisation costs.

The new rules would protect institutions using orphan works from future copyright infringement claims. On 1 June, a US federal judge gave authors permission to sue Google over the search-engines plan to create the world's largest digital library with more than 20 million scanned books, including orphan works without the permission from all the authors concerned.

Lidia Geringer de Oedenberg, the Polish socialist group MEP steering the issue through parliament, claimed that the deal would be a "first step towards harmonisation of copyright rules in the EU."

She added that, "the regulation will promote culture and finally make it possible to make some hidden treasures available to the general public."

The move comes after the European Commission launched a public consultation on online copyright rules on Monday (4 June) specifically looking at ways to locate illegal content on a website, and how website hosts should be notified about its presence.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday (6 June) ten trade and consumer organisations unveiled a set of demands to be included in the long-awaited directive on collective rights management. MEPs and copyright users have been demanding legislation on collective copyright for several years. After a lengthy delay, the Commission has now pledged to release legislation on collective rights management at the end of July.

Under the banner of the Copyright Users' Platform (CUP), the group stated that the EU executive had a duty to propose legislation to ensure "a long overdue improvement in the collective management of rights".

The CUP says that collective rights managers should agree contracts with all interested authors or users as well as a common dispute resolution system. They also want to make public all information about the services and prices offered by collective rights managers and establish an EU-wide rulebook on accounting and bookkeeping.

In response, Caroline Van Weede, managing director of signatory group Cable Europe, told EUobserver that it was "only logical that we want to streamline the process to get premium content to European consumers quickly, efficiently and with the widest set of choices possible."

The issue of collective rights has also been raised in a report by Jean Marie Cavada, a French centre-right MEP, which will be adopted by the European Parliament's Culture committee on 19 June. The Cavada report is Parliament's response to a Green Paper on collective rights management and audiovisual works released by the Commission in 2011.

The commission proposal is expected to set out common rules for copyright societies and license music and videos on a multi-territory basis. Collective copyrights in the EU are estimated to be worth €4.6 billion out of a global industry worth €7.5 billion.

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