NL: Landmark Digitization Agreement

Utrecht, 30 January 2009

Digitisation of heritage collections comes closer
Unique agreement between libraries and right holders

Dutch libraries, archives, and museums recently reached agreement with right holders on the digitisation and accessibility of their heritage collections. The organisations representing the libraries (FOBID) and the right holders (VOI©E) reached agreement within the Digiti©E Committee (Digitisation of Cultural Heritage) that was set up when a Declaration of Intent was signed at the opening of Amsterdam World Book Capital in April 2008. The agreement is a major breakthrough in the discussion regarding the copyright aspects of digitising collections held by libraries and archives.

As far as is known, this is the first agreement of this type anywhere in the world between libraries and right holders. There is concern in many other countries too regarding how to deal with the rights of right holders who cannot be traced, i.e. the holders of rights in “orphan works”. If the arrangement that has now been accepted in the Netherlands is imitated in other European countries, it will have an enormous effect on the availability of recent works in the “Europeana” digital library.

Right holders
Libraries and archives manage large collections that are important from the cultural and historical perspective. The development of digital technology basically allows those collections to be made available to the general public via the Internet. The European Commission recently launched the “Europeana” digital library, which is hosted by the National Library of the Netherlands in The Hague. The vast majority of the documents that have so far been digitised are from before the 20th century. The main reason for this limitation is that more recent works are still protected by copyright, meaning that they can only be digitised and distributed with the consent of the right holders. Tracing the right owner is a time-consuming and consequently costly process. Moreover, it often proves impossible to actually find the right owner, and so many libraries simply do not bother to try.

In their Declaration of Intent signed last April, the parties already noted that they recognised this problem and wished to cooperate in solving it; this is provided for in the recent agreement.

The essence of the agreement is that the libraries that are represented receive permission, on certain conditions, from virtually all right holders to digitise their collections and make them publically available on their own premises for teaching or research purposes. The works concerned must be part of the Dutch cultural heritage and no longer commercially available. The libraries do not need to pay the right holders as long as the works are only made available on their own premises.

Separate consent is required, however, if the digitised works are made more widely available, for example by means of remote access or via the Internet. In that case, an agreed payment must be made; agreements in principle can be made regarding payment by the Digiti©E committee. Even then, the library will not need to go in search of the right holders because this will be done by collecting societies such as Lira and Pictoright.

The organisations representing right holders will shortly be setting up a Registration Centre for digitisation where libraries and archives can register proposed projects and get in touch with right holders regarding how they should be implemented.

Individual right holders can naturally still object to their work being digitised and made accessible. In that case, the libraries and archives concerned are required to cease making the works accessible; in practice, very few titleholders actually object.

Kees Holierhoek, the chairman of the Lira copyright holders’ organisation and of the digital right holders working party, has this to say about the new agreement: “I’m very pleased about this agreement. It’s important for us that copyright should be respected, and that has been done in this case. At the same time, the agreement has done away with a major obstacle to making texts and photos accessible. Authors, freelance journalists, photographers, and publishers will all have a veto right if they do not wish to participate. If they do wish to participate, they can claim payment if their material is made accessible outside the institution’s own premises.”

Martin Bossenbroek, the acting General Director of the National Library of the Netherlands, says: “This agreement is a real breakthrough. It’s extremely good news for libraries like the National Library of the Netherlands whose core task is to manage nationally important heritage collections and make them available. The agreement regulates digitisation and the availability of digitised collections on our own premises. But that is only the first step, because we naturally want to also make the digitised collections available online. I think the real benefit of this agreement is that it shows how all the various interested parties understand one another’s positions and arguments. That constructive attitude will also make it possible to arrive at good follow-up arrangements for provision of material on the Internet.”

For more information, please go to the text of the declaration by the organisations of right holders:

About VOI©E
VOI©E (Netherlands Association of Organisations for the Collective Management of Intellectual Property Rights) is the sector organisation that deals with copyright and neighbouring rights.

FOBID (Netherlands Library Forum) is the national alliance of Dutch library organisations:
• Netherlands Public Library Association;
• NVB (Netherlands Association of Professionals in the Library, Information, and Knowledge Sector);
• UKB (consortium of the thirteen Dutch university libraries);
• National Library of the Netherlands.

More information
Please contact
Michel Frequin, director of VOI©E
Tel. +31 (0)70 310 9109 or +31 (0)6 5144 2153


Nol Verhagen, chair of FOBID’s Legal Committee
Tel. +31 (0)20 525 2307 or +31 (0)6 1129 2816

Autor: Klaus Graf

Historiker und Archivar, Blogger

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