Europe a step away from copyright reform: For education and the spreading of knowledge or …?
As one of numerous activities of the European Parliament conducted as part of a formal procedure laying down the foundations for the upcoming EU copyright reform, members of the European association COMMUNIA presented the results of their months-long campaign, which, owing to its insistence on the significance of gearing copyright reform to the requirements of 21st-century education, has also been joined by the National and University Library in Zagreb. Maria Rehbinder, member of the Copyright Working Group at LIBER, the Association of European Research Libraries, spoke as the representative of the library sector at this event, which took place in Brussels on 21 June 2017.
COMMUNIA’s campaign was launched in March 2017 in response to the European Commission proposal presented to the European Parliament for the purpose of introducing reforms into EU copyright regulations, since the adoption of this proposal without necessary modifications and amendments would not eliminate the existing barriers significantly obstructing contemporary educational processes, which are daily becoming increasingly more dynamic owing to the advancement of digital technologies and the related strengthening of cross-border cooperation between educational institutions.
The event’s key message to the members of the European Parliament focused precisely on the need for all policymakers to realise the extent to which adequate copyright laws are crucial to contemporary education. Highlighting this, and the fact that educators are almost entirely left out of decision-making processes in the field of copyright legislation, speakers at the event presented many experiences of educators at all levels and in all fields of education, vividly showing the variety of ways in which current copyright regulations act as an obstacle to education, and thus by extension to the spreading of knowledge. Teachers around Europe are daily confronted with situations where, due to possible copyright infringement, they either have to withhold valuable content and information from their students or make them available by risking copyright violation. Even in the Nordic countries, whose experiences, in particular those of Finland, were presented by Ms Rehbinder and where the so-called extended collective licensing (ECL) model has been rather effectively implemented in relation to educational activities for quite a long time, current practices, according to which exclusively the participants of some course may use course materials, which must be entirely removed after the course, considerably limit the use of teaching materials.
Additionally highlighting the problem of compensations for using copyrighted works as part of teaching materials to publishers that are not necessarily the holders of rights to these works but are getting compensations anyway on account of their membership in societies acting as “blanket representatives” for its members, Rehbinder advocated a “mandatory exception” from the unreasonably restrictive and limiting implementation of copyright laws in relation to educational activities, thus voicing the opinion of “thousands of educators, researchers, innovators, libraries and scholarly institutions.” This exception should encompass educational activities physically conducted in all institutions with educational function as well as those conducted online, which also includes those organised as part of international cooperation. Such comprehensive exception for all public institutions having an educational role and educators involved in their activities was also the principal demand put forward by the rest of the speakers, including the representatives of COMMUNIA who continue to emphasise how giving precedence to licensing over exception(s) would only leave all institutions performing an educational role with an even more complex copyright labyrinth than the one they are already faced with. Only the introduction of an all-embracing exception may ensure unhindered education in dynamic contemporary environment based on advanced, but what is even more important socially inclusive digital technologies, and in this way create conditions necessary for the growth of knowledge as the basis for further social, economic, technological, scientific and cultural development of Europe.
COMMUNIA, whose representatives are announcing the continuation of their initiative aimed at the expansion of the public domain within the digital environment, has recently joined a campaign for the support of Diego Gómez, a Columbian postgraduate that has been facing criminal charges for the violation of copyright for the last three years on account of his sharing of a master’s thesis by a fellow scholar on the Scribd platform for research purposes. COMMUNIA’s involvement in this case serves as a reminder that the need to bring copyright legislation in line with the requirements of the contemporary digital environment is truly a global issue. The fact that even after being acquitted of these charges by the Bogotá criminal court this June, the author of the paper in question filed an appeal owing to which Gómez is again facing the prospect of spending up to eight years in prison, a sentence harsher even than the maximum sentence for human trafficking in Columbia, says enough about how necessary it is to carefully re-examine and appropriately modify copyright regulations. It remains to be seen whether the members of the European Parliament will fully realise this and vote in such a copyright reform that will be possible to use as a model on a global level.
(Photos by: Sebastiaan ter Burg. Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ter-burg/sets/72157682279450322/with/35282935212/.)