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EC: New principles agreed for out-of-print book licensing

Rights-holders can 'opt out'

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Libraries, publishers, authors and collecting societies have agreed principles that will shape future licensing agreements on digitising out-of-print books, the European Commission said.

Out-of-print books are works that are copyright-protected but are either no longer being published or are not generally available to the public, aside from in libraries or via second-hand shops, the Commission said. Libraries must obtain the permission of copyright owners before digitising works, and the new agreement will help facilitate that, it said.

The key principles agreed in the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) represent "an unprecedented opportunity" for European citizens to access digital works through libraries that publishers may not otherwise have had a "financial interest in maintaining", the Commission said.

The key principles agreed include a commitment that all licensing agreements should be negotiated on a voluntary basis and define how the works can be commercially and non-commercially used, whilst it must "stipulate the author's right to claim authorship of the work, to acknowledge this authorship when known, and the author's right to object to any distortion, mutilation or other modification of his work," the new Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) said.

Collective licensing agreements for out-of-print works can only be granted by "collective management organisations" if those organisations represent a "substantial number of authors and publishers" that will be affected by the deal and if they are "appropriately represented," the MoU said.

The MoU also set out particular rules on how management rights of out-of-print books will be presumed.

"Where a right-holder whose work was first published in a particular Member State has not transferred the management of his rights to a collective management organisation, the collective management organisation which manages rights of the same category in that Member State of first publication shall be presumed to manage the rights in respect of such work," the new agreement (5-page/28KB PDF) said.

Efforts must be made to tell rights-holders that their works are to be licensed, and they will have the right to "opt out" their works from the agreement, it said.

The agreed key principles will "give European libraries and similar cultural institutions the possibility to digitise and make available online [out-of-print] books and learned journals which are part of their collections," the European Commission said.

"[The] agreement marks an important step forward by stakeholders to find viable and concrete solutions to further the creation of Europe’s digital libraries and ensure access to our rich cultural heritage," Michel Barnier, European Commissioner for the Internal Market and Services, said in a statement.

"I strongly believe this is a clear sign that, through dialogue and taking into account the specific needs of specific sectors, it is possible to reach negotiated solutions to surmount copyright issues in the digital era," Barnier said.

The organisations that signed the MoU included the European Writers' Council, the Federation of European Publishers, the European Bureau of Library, Information and Documentation Associations and the International Federation of Reprographic Rights Organisations.

Copyright © 2011, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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