National institutions call for removal of major barrier to mass digitisation

Proposed amendments to the Orphan Works Clause 42 (works with no known owner) of the Digital Economy Bill will pose one of the greatest barriers to mass digitisation of content by the UK's leading national institutions.

In a letter published in today's Times, the British Library, Tate, V&A, National Portrait Gallery, BFI, Wellcome Trust, Imperial War Museum, JISC and others are seeking to ensure the safe passage of Clause 42 of the government's Digital Economy Bill, which if passed will provide the UK with the best Orphan Works solution in the world, unlocking vast amounts of collections for the nation.

Perhaps 40% of some of our national institutions' collections are orphan works. Restricting the digitisation of these works limits access and will leave a huge volume of historically important collections ‘in limbo'.  A significant proportion of these were never originally intended for commercial use and should not be treated in the same way as commercially produced in-copyright orphan works.

In the view of these signatories, copyright collecting societies do have a major role to play in managing the copyright of known and commercially published rights holders.  However, they are not the only institutions capable of acting responsibly in relation to Orphan Works.

The educational and cultural sectors also have a long history of respecting rights holders in the provision of access, combined with an unrivalled knowledge of the unique material that sits within their collections.  The suggestion of an Orphan Works licence for such institutions, put forward under the Digital Economy Bill, would offer a flexible system enabling access to collections to be improved for the benefit of education and research around the world.

One example of Orphan Works are the thousands of photographs of British servicemen during the First and Second World Wars held by the British Library. These photographs have enormous value to researchers but there is no way of tracing the rights owner - which means the photographs cannot be digitised and made accessible. Other examples of Orphan Works held by libraries, archives, museums and galleries include oral histories, personal letters, films and drawings.

The Digital Economy Bill proposes a system that allows a cultural or educational organisation to apply for a licence for the use of these works. Such a flexible system is the right one given the types of works that fall into the category of Orphan Works.

Lynne Brindley, Chief Executive, British Library said: “Our aim is to give online access to cultural material for education and research purposes.  The Bill as it is envisaged, details a scheme for licensing to emerge after consultation once the Act is passed. We feel this is unsatisfactory; at this stage we believe that the expertise of cultural and education institutions should not be ruled out in the future licensing of Orphan Works. Given the flexibility of the current proposal we are asking that Clause 42 is passed as drafted by government, and for the reasons stated above, does not rule out the provision for a cultural or educational body to receive a licence from the Secretary of State."

Notes to Editors

Signatories to letter include:

  • Dame Lynne Brindley - The British Library, Chief Executive
  • Amanda Nevill, Director, British Film Institute
  • Chris Holland, Honorary Vice President, The British and Irish Association of Law Librarians
  • Diane Lees, Director General, Imperial War Museum
  • Dr Malcolm Read OBE, Executive Secretary, Joint Information System Committee (JISC)
  • Lorraine Estelle, Chief Executive, Joint Information System Committee Collections (JISC)
  • Barbara Stratton, Secretary, Libraries and Archives Copyright Alliance
  • Martyn Wade, National Librarian and Chief Executive, National Library of Scotland
  • Andrew Green, The Librarian of the National Library of Wales (Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru)
  • Dr Kevin Fewster, Director, National Maritime Museum
  • Sandy Nairne, Director, National Portrait Gallery
  • Professor Douglas Kell, Chief Executive Champion, Research Councils UK
  • Sir Nicholas Serota, Director, Tate
  • Sarah E Thomas, Director, Bodleian Library, Oxford University Library Services
  • Sir Mark Jones, Director, The Victoria and Albert Museum
  • Sir Mark Walport, Director, Wellcome Trust
  • Nicola Dandridge, CEO, Universities UK
  • Bill Ferris, Chairman, Association of Independent Museums
  • Dr Michael Dixon, Director, The Natural History Museum
  • Professor Douglas Kell, Chief Executive Champion, Research Councils UK
  • Elaine Fulton, Director, Scottish Library and Information Council/CILIP in Scotland
  • Toby Bainton, Secretary - Society of College, National and University Libraries (SCONUL)

Notes to Editors

The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and one of the world's greatest research libraries. It provides world class information services to the academic, business, research and scientific communities and offers unparalleled access to the world's largest and most comprehensive research collection. The Library's collection has developed over 250 years and exceeds 150 million separate items representing every age of written civilisation. It includes: books, journals, manuscripts, maps, stamps, music, patents, newspapers and sound recordings in all written and spoken languages. Further information is available on the Library's website at www.bl.uk.

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The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and one of the world's greatest research libraries. It provides world class information services to the academic, business, research and scientific communities and offers unparalleled access to the world's largest and most comprehensive research collection. The Library's collection has developed over 250 years and exceeds 150 million separate items representing every age of written civilisation and includes books, journals, manuscripts, maps, stamps, music, patents, photographs, newspapers and sound recordings in all written and spoken languages. Up to 10 million people visit the British Library website - www.bl.uk - every year where they can view up to 4 million digitised collection items and over 40 million pages.