How much does the EP CULT Committee really care about culture and education?

Libraries in Europe support education, research, lifelong learning activities and access to information. 82% of Europe’s over 65 000 public libraries offer skills training, 24 million European adults benefit from this every year. All places of learning from a school, college to a university will also have libraries where people go to study.

Libraries rely heavily on exceptions to copyright to allow for use of materials for research and teaching, without unnecessary bureaucracy or expense. These exceptions are still determined nationally, with invisible walls at national borders meaning that Europeans cannot benefit from the same possibilities, depending on where they live.

Common rules across Europe will not only give everyone the same possibilities, but will also clear the way for the further development of digital education and culture. As Jüri Ratas, Prime Minister of Estonia, has declared[1], “striving towards a seamless physical and digital connectivity is in the interest of the whole European Union as economic success cannot be separated from the free movement of goods, services, people, capital, and knowledge”.

The result will be a better educated, more creative population, enjoying a more diverse range of culture, better able to create and innovate.

We expect the European Parliament to pursue this objective, in the interest of the many, not the few.  We expect it to think not just about the vested interests of one sector, but rather to remove digital barriers which harm its electors. We expect the members of the Culture and Education Committee (CULT) in particular to make proposals that would promote access to education and culture, and favour strong and diverse education and culture in the digital environment.

As outlined below, it is therefore disappointing to read the position adopted by many of the members of the CULT committee on the Copyright Directive proposal.

We see education as a public interest activity. We believe that it should be aided by allowing teachers to make fair and proportionate use of copyrighted works without unnecessary and chilling bureaucracy or costs. But the compromise amendments proposed in the CULT Committee seem to see institutions such as schools as just another revenue stream to be exploited.

We see libraries as playing a major role in delivering Europe’s goals on lifelong learning. We know that they provide a safe environment – often the only free, public one in a community – and a lifeline for vulnerable groups looking to develop their computer and other job-related skills. But the compromise amendments proposed in the CULT committee, in contradiction with the objectives of Education and Training 2020, will do nothing to make it easier for them to offer such programmes, and so hurt the communities they serve.

We see new techniques such as the mining of Big Data as a means of enhancing progress, and delivering new insights, breakthroughs, and jobs. But the compromise amendments proposed in the CULT Committee seem ready to put digital progress on hold, doing inestimable damage to Europe’s growth potential and ability to compete in international innovation. There appears to be a total lack of join up with real-world economics, where member state governments and the Commission are strongly trying to support start-ups bring new jobs and growth to the economy.

Instead of engaging with the enormous economic potential of Big Data, the compromise amendments proposed in CULT require research data created from analysing in-copyright works to be deleted. This is unethical and “bad science”. The retention of datasets used in scientific research as essential to correcting mistakes, engendering further research as well as combatting malpractice and fraud. The compromise amendments in the CULT Committee however seem ready to sacrifice this in order to calm unproven fears.

We see e-Reading as part of the future of literacy, and therefore the possibility for libraries to lend e-Books without unnecessary restrictions as a common-sense step forward. It will ensure that all of the population, not just the better off, can enjoy Europe’s cultural outputs. But the compromise amendments in the CULT committee seem to see e-Lending as a threat.  Libraries have leant books for generations, and co-existed alongside as well as created entire academic book markets.  Despite well over a century of public libraries lending, the compromise amendments betray a wish that public libraries do not continue this activity into the digital future.

Both commercial and not-for-profit institutions are fundamental in producing and sharing information, and their work should be equally supported. However, amendments adopted within the CULT committee seem to be in favour of the interest of a few. Rather than take the opportunity to improve the Commission’s text, the compromise amendments in the CULT committee seem ready to do the opposite.  Their approach equates to looking at the Copyright Directive proposals through the wrong end of a telescope.

Education and culture are quintessential, broad public interest activities. In adopting these compromise amendments, CULT will have construed them narrowly as being best supported and nurtured by promoting the narrow interests of industry.

Access to knowledge, education and culture needs to be nurtured, not restricted.  It is not too late to put the telescope back the right way around. Libraries and Cultural Heritage Institutions are ready to help.

[1] Declaration of 13 February 2017: “Next goal of EU should be free movement of data”, https://www.eesistumine.ee/en/news/prime-minister-ratas-next-goal-eu-should-be-free-movement-data

 

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