EU copyright database could help reform the laws on orphan works

Steely Neelie wants pan-European searchable legal copyright database

A project designed to identify the copyright status of European works will be extended to cover multimedia material and could become a vital tool in the reform of the law surrounding orphan works, European commissioner Neelie Kroes has said.

The ARROW project was established in 2008 to co-ordinate the activities of libraries and rights management bodies in publishing the details of who owns the copyright in written works.

Head of the ARROW project management team Piero Attanasio has told a press conference that the scheme, which was due to end in May, has been extended. It will become ARROW Plus and will work with bodies in 17 EU countries to examine how its system can apply to copyrights in visual material.

Kroes, who is the vice-president of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda, has said that this expanded system could be placed at the heart of the commission's reforms of laws surrounding orphan works, which are cultural products whose copyright owner cannot be identified.

"I have a vision: one search in ARROW should be all you should need to determine the copyright status of a cultural good in Europe," said Kroes in a speech to rights management bodies. "If it were embedded in the forthcoming Directive on orphan works, ARROW could become the official portal in Europe where you can find essential rights information and do automated searches of rightholders and copyrights."

"In the medium-term, it could cover all European print works (books, magazines, etc) in the EU, and afterwards – why not? – also photographic and audiovisual works," she said. "ARROW should become a one-stop shop for determining, easily and quickly, with full legal certainty, whether a work is orphan or not, out-of-distribution or not, and so on."

The Commission is working on a directive that it hopes will ensure that orphan works are made available in a digitised format for people to use. Kroes said that ARROW Plus could be a part of that plan, but that it would have to extend its scope.

"For this to be achieved, the system must ... provide comprehensive pan-European coverage of the rights and rightholders involved," said Kroes. "Where the cultural infrastructure is not yet in place, we will need to find ways and means to do it. I also expect that ARROW will be able to scale up in order to deal with non-text material. In the short term that means material like visual works and illustrations, but in the long term it could mean more."

Kroes said that the in-development cultural library Europeana consists almost entirely of out-of-copyright works. ARROW must develop into a comprehensive copyright database if in-copyright works, and orphan works in particular, are to be properly represented in Europeana, she said.

"For the moment only a very small percentage of the material accessible through Europeana is in-copyright material," she said. "That should change. And one of the key problems to solve in order to make that happen is the orphan works problem."

"Indeed, depending on the sector concerned, estimates of the number of orphan works in cultural institutions vary from around 20 per cent for films and slightly less for books, at the low end, to up to 90 per cent for photography at the high end. That is a truly staggering figure, which shows up one of the massive difficulties in applying theory of copyright in practice," said Kroes.

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