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Retrospective: opportunities to make available cultural heritage of Europe

Michel Barnier, European Commissioner for the Internal Market and Services, presided over the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding(MoU) in which libraries, publishers, authors, and their collecting societies have agreed to a set of Key Principles that are intended to give European libraries and similar cultural institutions the possibility to digitise and make available on line out-of-commerce books and learned journals which are part of their collections. This non-legislative initiative is complementary to the Commission’s adopted legislative proposal on orphan works.

The MoU is the successful outcome of an eight-month long stakeholder dialogue facilitated by the Commission. European authors, publishers, libraries and collective management organisations have been working together since November 2010 and have agreed on a solution which takes account both of the interests of authors and the publishing sector on the one hand and of libraries and mass digitisation projects on the other.

Collecting societies representing right holders in books and learned journals will play a key role in the practical implementation of the MoU which should substantially facilitate the negotiation and acquisition of the licences that libraries and similar cultural institutions need to digitise and put on line an important part of their archives (i.e. the books and learned journals in their collections which are out-of-commerce).

Out-of-commerce works are works that are still protected by copyright but are no longer commercially available because the authors and publishers have decided neither to publish new editions nor to sell copies through the customary channels of commerce. In turn, libraries do not own the copyright to the works contained in their collections. Therefore, they must seek the permission of the right holders – authors and publishers – before they can digitise out-of-commerce works and put them online as part of their digital library projects.

The Commission will monitor the development of the MoU based on information received from stakeholders.