COMMUNIA FINAL REPORT | The Public Domain and the European Commission Strategy

How Europe can become a leader in the Public Domain

So far much of the value residing in the public domain has been left unattended. Much of the emphasis has been placed on private commodification of information rather than exploitation of the public domain for the public good. Unfortunately, no international player has yet focused upon the value of openness and public domain business models by reversing the present trend of extreme propertization. As detailed throughout the report, the emerging online culture of sharing and remixing has enhanced the value of the public domain. User-generated content, online collaborative endeavours and peer-production, such as open source software, are founded on the value of reuse and inherently diminished by increased propertization. The same applies to blogging, tweeting and modern forms of online information that have radically changed our democratic landscape. So far, no jurisdiction has really tackled the question of creativity in the digital age by shifting the paradigm of steady commodification of information, overlooking the fact that digitization and the Internet have changed everything. In contrast, digitization and the Internet have become a misperceived justification of extreme propertization. Europe can become an international leader in extracting value from the public domain with a few key solutions that do not substantially harm the current state copyright and do not entail overbroad efforts.

The large benefits that Europe could reap from preserving and promoting the public domain will substantially come at no additional costs. The assets of the public domain are ready to be profitably used. The public domain is a cultural mine enriched over the centuries. Today, the riches of the public domain can be enjoyed with the click of a computer mouse. The power of propagation through the Internet and the endless productivity of digitization have made exploitation easier and the public domain exponentially more valuable.

Additionally, mechanisms and tools to make the public domain and the value attached to it a priority for further intervention are already in place at the EU level. Since the i2010 strategy, European institutions have greatly valued digitization and preservation of the European public domain, open access to information, and the protection of users’ prerogatives in the digital environment. The same priorities have been upheld by the most recent efforts of the European Union. In this regard, as one of the seven flagship initiatives of the Europe 2020 strategy, the Digital Agenda is setting up several key principles and guidelines to redress many of the tensions challenging the full exploitation of the value of the digital public domain. Many of the key actions proposed by the Digital Agenda strengthen the conclusions and the call for policy actions put forward by COMMUNIA. In particular:

  1. i. digitization of the European cultural heritage and digital libraries are key aspects of the recently implemented Digital Agenda of the European Union. The Digital Agenda notes that fragmentation and complexity in the current licensing system also hinder the digitisation of a large part of Europe's recent cultural heritage. Therefore,
  1. a. rights clearance must be improved;
  2. b. Europeana – the EU public digital library – should be strengthened and increased public funding is needed to finance large-scale digitisation, alongside initiatives with private partners;
  3. c. funding to digitisation projects is to be conditioned to general accessibility of Europe's digitised common cultural heritage online.
  1. ii. The Digital Agenda calls for a simplification of copyright clearance, management and cross-licencing. In particular, the European Commission should create a legal framework to facilitate the digitization and dissemination of cultural works in Europe by proposing a directive on orphan works.
  2. iii. The review of the Directive on the Re-Use of Public Sector Information to oblige public bodies to open up data resources for cross-border application and services has been prioritized by the Digital Agenda;
  3. iv. Promoting cultural diversity and creative content in the digital environment, as an obligation under the 2005 UNESCO Convention, is an additional relevant goal of the Digital Agenda.
  4. v. The Digital Agenda is also very much concerned with harmonization and simplification of laws by calling for the creation of a “vibrant single digital market” and promoting the necessity of building digital confidence as per the EU citizens’ digital rights that are scattered across various laws and are not always easy to grasp.

The mentioned European strategies have been translated in a vast array of projects and endeavours to protect and propel the public domain in Europe and to investigate its capacity to produce value for society at large. COMMUNIA is one of the outcomes of this strategic vision, especially conceived to investigate the challenges and the opportunities brought by digitization.