Europeana’s Public Domain Charter

Europeana has released their Public Domain Charter. The document seeks not be be prescriptive, but to foster discussion and innovation to aid cultural heritage institutions in meeting their core missions with costly digitization as a new and growing part of that mission.

This is one of the best documents I’ve seen in terms of explaining the necessity and difficulty of balancing support for open and free public access with the costs of creating and maintaining digitized content.

See the excerpt from the Public Domain Charter below, with my bolding of significant portions for emphasis:

This Charter is a policy statement […]

[T]he transformation from guardians of analogue collections to providers of digital services places enormous challenges on these organisations. Creating and maintaining digital collections is expensive; the cultural heritage sector may lack resources for this new responsibility. Government sponsors may encourage or require organisations to generate income by way of licensing content to a wide variety of commercial users.

Public-Private Partnerships have become one option for funding large scale digitisation efforts. Commercial content aggregators pay for the digitisation in exchange for privileged access to the digitised collections. These activities are seen as a reason for attempting to exercise as much control as possible over digital reproductions of Public Domain works. Organisations are claiming exclusive rights in digitised versions of Public Domain works and are entering into exclusive relationships with commercial partners that hinder free access.

When this exclusivity locks down digital content and inhibits access and re-use by teachers, innovators and citizens, memory organisations may be compromising their core mission and undermining their relationship with their users. Works that are in the Public Domain in analogue form must remain freely available in digital form and digitisation of such works must lead to increased access by the public instead of new restrictions. To remain relevant in the digital age, cultural and scientific heritage organisations must strive to increase access to our shared knowledge and culture by being the primary points of access to the works that they have in their collections. Value-added services can be developed around content without the need to claim exclusive rights over works that have been in the Public Domain in analogue form.

Ultimately, at a political and policy-making level, it is in the interests of society that Public Domain knowledge and information be digitised. Once digitised, it should be freely available to creative enterprise, R&D innovators and technical entrepreneurs to use as the basis for generating ideas and applications yet to be envisaged.

The aim of this Charter is to give a clear signal to content providers, policy makers and the public that Europeana and the Europeana Foundation believe in and wish to strengthen the concept of the Public Domain in the digitised world.
(direct link to English online version of the Charter)