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Copyright in the Knowledge Economy

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Copyright in the Knowledge Economy

Technical progress has made information more accessible, in particular through the Internet. For this reason, it is now necessary to adapt the legal framework for copyright to recent technological developments. This Communication therefore examines possible avenues for future action concerning the digitisation of works, the processing of orphan works, access for persons with disabilities and the protection of new creators of online content.


Communication from the Commission of 19 October 2009 - Copyright in the Knowledge Economy [COM(2009) 532 final – Not published in the Official Journal].


After having analysed the responses generated by the Green Paper on Copyright in the Knowledge Economy, in this Communication the European Commission announces a series of actions to be implemented in the area of intellectual property rights.

What are the positions of the different stakeholders concerned?

The Commission collected 372 responses from the consultation launched by the Green Paper. The analysis of the responses shows radically opposed positions among the following key stakeholders:

  • archives, libraries and universities favour a wider-ranging copyright system, as well as a system of “public interest” exceptions to facilitate access to works;
  • publishers, collecting societies and other right-holders favour the status quo as regards copyright, and prefer contracts which can be adapted to each case and which take account of new technologies.

What is the Commission's strategy in terms of copyright?

Libraries and archives

Digital copies and electronic dissemination of digitised works represent the two main challenges for libraries and archives. Currently, the digitisation of a library collection is subject to prior approval from right-holders, and the dissemination of works online can only be performed on library premises.

The Commission therefore intends to continue working at European level towards clarifying the legal implications of mass-scale digitisation and providing solutions to the issue of transaction costs for right clearance.

Orphan Works

Orphan works are works that are in copyright but whose right-holders cannot be identified or located. They cannot be exploited because it is impossible to obtain prior permission from the right-holders. Consequently, these works cannot be included in digitisation projects such as the Europeana library. Although the Commission published a Recommendation on the online digitisation of cultural material in 2006, and the Memorandum of Understanding on Orphan Works in 2008, there is no binding legal framework in this field at present.

The Commission plans to launch an impact assessment to explore a variety of approaches to facilitate the digitisation and dissemination of orphan works. Several options are being considered, including a legally binding stand-alone instrument on the clearance and mutual recognition of orphan works (this would be an exception to the provisions of Directive 2001/29/EC), or guidance on cross-border mutual recognition of orphan works.

Teaching and research

Enabled by new information and communication technologies, teaching and research is already widely internationalised. It is therefore important that copyright on books and publications does not hinder the development of these sectors. To this end, different processes in scientific publishing and publishing for literary and artistic aims are being envisaged. Furthermore, the Commission proposes to facilitate the acquisition and use of material for scientific research. Currently, the system is based on licence agreements concluded with publishers. The Commission wishes to consolidate best practice in this field in order to achieve a less fragmented system of usage rights to journals.

Persons with disabilities

The United Nations Convention on the rights of Persons with Disabilities stipulates that these persons have a fundamental right to enjoy equal access to information products, publications and cultural material in an accessible format. However, persons with disabilities have very limited access to these works for the moment (5 % of books published in Europe are converted into accessible formats). Moreover, the cross-border transfer of this type of material is hampered by the territorial limitation of copyright exceptions under national legislation.

The Commission’s main goal is to encourage publishers to make more works accessible to disabled persons. In this regard, the organisation of a forum bringing together the stakeholders concerned will foster solutions to give persons with disabilities better access to works while ensuring that right-holders are adequately remunerated for the use of their work.

User-created content (UCC)

With the development of Internet applications, users can now produce and share text, videos and pictures or create content, sometimes using copyright-protected material.

However, this phenomenon of content creation by Internet users is still quite recent. For this reason, the Commission intends to analyse the needs of this type of user further with regard to protecting their rights.

Last updated: 09.07.2010