The recently released "Next Steps" planning communication from the European Commission (EC) gives Europeana (www.europeana.eu) just praise as a showcase for European cultural artifacts. But it calls for much more collaboration to increase content, find digital rights solutions, and establish sustainable funding. The EC is asking for comments from individuals and organizations to guide the future development of its prime i2010 digital libraries project.
Launched in November 2008 with 2 million digitized works from 27 member countries, Europeana now claims more than 4.6 million books, newspapers, film clips, maps, photographs, and documents from European libraries, archives, museums, and audiovisual repositories. More than 1,000 cultural institutions contribute content directly or indirectly through aggregators, and more than 150 institutions participate as partners in the network. The goal is to have 10 million objects accessible through the portal by the time Europeana 1.0 replaces the beta site in 2010.
It's not just more works that must be added. More equal participation from all member libraries is required, and original-language content must be increased. As of July, France is still the biggest contributor to Europeana, providing 47% of the content, though that is down from the 52% share it had on launch. Germany is next with 15%; the Netherlands and the U.K. each have contributed 8%; Sweden, Finland, and Norway (which is not even an EU member) hover at 4%-5%; and others trail far behind with 1% or less.
A more noticeable problem for many users-and an embarrassing one since Europeana prides itself on offering interfaces in the native language of all its members-is that many national treasures are not there in the original language. If you do a search on Da Vinci, for example, you will find 460 objects in French but only 140 in Italian. Shakespeare is represented with 606 items in French and only 317 in English. The Spanish writer Cervantes has 176 objects in French and just 43 in Spanish. And you might think that the Danish author Hans Christian Andersen was really German, with 387 items provided in German and only one in Danish!
Much of the problem of poor balance lies with the member states and their cultural institutions, which determine what items and formats will be contributed in line with their own individual policies. Curiously, only 5% of all digitized books in the EU have been made available through Europeana, and only 1% of the 2.5 billion books in European libraries are digitized. Poland and Hungary have concentrated on contributing books, but Finland, Estonia, and Luxembourg have concentrated on newspapers and magazines, while Romania has focused on images from museums. To meet the expectations of its users, the report suggests that "a particular effort may be needed" in relation to specific types of materials.
Copyright and Orphan Works
An even greater effort will be needed to resolve the problems encountered by dated and varied copyright laws, which the Aug. 28 EC report warns run the risk of "fragmenting Europe's digitised cultural heritage into national silos." Acknowledging that one French aggregator had to withdraw photographic content it had contributed to Europeana because its license restricted dissemination of that material to "its own territory," the report states that there are also other cases where cultural institutions, for financial or legal reasons, have accepted licenses that limit dissemination to IP addresses within the national domain. The "Next Steps" report states unequivocally that it is essential that licenses provide for the availability of Europeana material across the European Union (EU)-but it doesn't extend the license issue to the world outside Europe.
Particular efforts related to harmonizing law on orphan works (works for which it is impossible or very difficult to determine rightsholders) have begun but have not progressed as much as necessary. In 2006, the EC asked member states to establish mechanisms to deal with orphan works, and a memorandum of understanding was signed by various stakeholders on "diligent search guidelines" for orphan works. The 2008 "Green Paper: Copyright in the Knowledge Economy" introduced a series of issues, questioning how to tackle cross-border aspects and asking whether legislation is necessary at the European level to address orphan works. Of note is the ARROW (Accessible Registries of Rights Information and Orphan Works) project that was launched in November 2008 to build a network of rightsholder and works databases from across the EU to speed up the process of getting permission to digitize works.
The 20th-Century Black Hole and Public Domain
A notable difference between U.S. and European copyright protection (both of which have been harmonized to 70 years after the death of the author) is that Europe does not recognize the 1923 cut-off date that places pre-1923 works in the public domain in the U.S. Thus, much pre-1923 material, even though originating from Europe, can be digitized and made available to users in the U.S. without a license agreement, but it cannot be made available in Europe without a license agreement there. This difference works unfavorably for Europeana and any worldwide digitization project. Indeed, certain items are currently "grayed out" in Google Books (http://books.google.com) to European users with an "image not available" box and the notation that "some content may not be available in full view to users outside of the United States."
The report also addresses the issue of whether a format shift removes a work from the public domain and starts a new period of licensing or copyright, saying that "works in the public domain should stay there once digitized," though acknowledging that this does not always occur in practice. Some contributing institutions currently claim rights on the works they have digitized and even require payment to view the object in "a reasonable size." The commission notes that the degree of originality needed for the creation of copyright has not been established uniformly at the European level (except for photographs, databases, and computer software), and therefore, what is valid in one member state may not be in another. Though Europeana must honor the rights and licenses of its individual contributors, the EC report points out the risk of locking up public domain content in digitized format and asks, as the High Level Group on Digital Libraries did, that, if restrictions are necessary to finance digitization, the restrictions be applied to a limited time period.
Thus far, and continuing through 2013, funding for the Europeana project is largely from the EC and the member states: A total of €7.5 million ($10.9 million U.S.) is budgeted from the commission through mid-2011. Citing the imperative to become less dependent on project-based financing, the report lays out various scenarios for public-private partnerships and for public funding for Europeana in the medium term, from 2013 forward. The suggestions are wide-ranging; perhaps the only alternative not acceptable is user fees. "Making the end user pay for finding the content through Europeana and for the other functionalities of the site is not an option, since this ... would run counter to the basic aim of the site."
Not ruled out is private sponsoring-a model that "Next Steps" points out is popular in the U.S. Also considered are advertising and various forms of "commercial communication" on the site, payment for links provided to public and private content providers that generate their own income, and "further-reaching" private operation of Europeana. Continued funding only from the public sector is also presented as justifiable in sustaining Europeana as a "vehicle of cultural policy," as well as the possible generation of "creative and economic activity in areas such as learning and tourism." However, it is suggested that asking member states to pay more beyond the startup costs is problematic and undependable, and the report flatly rejects a contributor-pay model, surely recognizing the considerable costs incurred by organizations in digitizing their collections and providing metadata.
Commissioner Reding's Support for Google Books
The carefully measured tones in the EC's "Next Steps" report stand in sharp contrast to the public reception of an Aug. 27 statement by EU Commissioner for Information Society and Media Viviane Reding, supporting the controversial Google Books settlement. Variously reported as "giving the thumbs-up" or "throwing her weight" toward the Google settlement, her written statement reads more nuanced. From her point of view as commissioner in charge of the Europeana project, it is no wonder that she states that "digitization of cultural products, including books, is a Herculean task" and that she supports an approach that is "open to private-sector initiatives and to technological innovation." But Reding cautions that "commercial projects alone certainly cannot cover the public interest dimension of the digitization of cultural products" and zeroes in on a key element: "The Commission ... looks with interest to new solutions now tested between Google and the right holders in the U.S. for making orphan works ... better accessible to a broader public."
In a July 9 speech, the outspoken and forward-thinking Reding had called for a modern set of European rules that encourage the digitization of books, noting that "90% of books in Europe's national libraries are no longer commercially available, because they are either out of print or orphan works," and warning that, "If we do not reform our European copyright rules on orphan works and libraries swiftly, digitization and the development of attractive content offers will not take place in Europe, but on the other side of the Atlantic."
Responding to the recent announcement that the national libraries of Italy and France will collaborate with Google Books, Reding welcomed the discussions, noted that they involved public domain works only, and hoped that they would be available not only through Google Books but also through the national libraries' websites and Europeana. Seven other European libraries already are Google Books partners.
Not all Europeans are positive about the Google settlement. Germany's justice minister filed a suit in U.S. federal court against the settlement a few days after Reding's support statement, claiming that the agreement would violate German copyright law and privacy protections for internet users.
Commissioner for the Internal Market and Services Charlie McCreevy, whose priorities include protecting intellectual property rights to encourage innovation in the knowledge economy, held an open informational meeting on Sept. 7 to discuss the effects of the Google Book settlement agreement on the European publishing sector, European authors, European consumers, and society at large. On the following day, Commissioner Reding, who has stated that "Europeana alone will not suffice to put Europe on the digital map of the world," met in Brussels, Belgium, with Dan Clancy, engineering director of Google Books; Bruno Racine, president of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France; and several European publishers.
A joint statement issued by the two commissioners at the opening of this week's meetings stressed the need for fully respecting copyright law to ensure fair remuneration for authors but also called upon Europe to "turn over a new e-leaf on digital books and copyright," and welcomed public-private partnerships as a way to boost the digitization of books.
Following the meeting, the BBC reported that Google would offer scanned books to Europeana, allow two positions on its proposed Books Rights Registry to European representatives, and not add material that is out of print in the U.S. but still available for sale elsewhere, unless rightsholder consent is granted.
Meanwhile, public comments on the content, copyright, and financing issues brought out in the "Next Steps" document are being assembled. Written comments, which will be made available on the website unless privacy is requested, are due by Nov. 15. The commission will be discussing the findings, making recommendations, and collaborating on solutions with the European Parliament and Council and others.
"Next Steps: Europeana" Communication and Press Pack Links
Copyright in the Information Society
"Green Paper: Copyright in the Knowledge Economy"
ARROW (Accessible Registries of Rights Information and Orphan Works)
Commissioner Viviane Reding on Google Books (Aug. 28, 2009)
Commissioner Viviane Reding on Digital Europe as Fast Track to Economic Recovery (July 9, 2009)
Google Books Library Partners
Google Book U.S. Settlement Agreement information hearing, Brussels, Belgium (Sept.7, 2009)
Joint Statement of EU Commissioners Reding and McGreevy, Sept.7, 2009
"Next Steps" Questions for Public Comment
Google European Public Policy Blog