Copyright & Legal Matters Working Group

Update on Call for Urgent Copyright Action to Support Distance Learning & Research

Posted: 10-07-2020 Topics: Copyright Strategy

Three months ago we highlighted the need for urgent action from governments, publishers and authors, so that online teaching and learning in the wake of Covid-19 can be properly supported. Sadly, little action has been taken to deal with the fact that books located in libraries cannot be accessed remotely.

Few key players have reacted to the requests made in our April statement, namely for:

  • Member State Governments and European Commissioners to act immediately to ensure that publicly accessible libraries and educational establishments are able to support the overnight switch to remote access;
  • Urgent guidance to be issued to ensure that researchers, educational establishments and libraries are able for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis to fulfil their educational responsibilities and provide remote services using in-copyright works without fear of litigation.
  • Publishers, authors and their trade bodies to make a public pledge to allow the following activities with immediate effect where no blanket licences currently cover a particular institution: (1) document supply of whole items to specific individuals (2) remote access to eBooks currently limited to premises only access, for research purposes to named specific individuals (3) use of copyright works in recorded or streamed teaching activities aimed solely at pupils, students and researchers (4) public libraries to read stories across the internet.

LIBER did receive a response from the European Commission, in which the Commission acknowledged the disruption that Covid-19 had caused to libraries and other cultural heritage institutions.

The Commission’s main response was that some of the issues raised in our original letter could perhaps be dealt with when the DSM is transposed into member state law the middle of next year.

We recognise the important role libraries play in our society and appreciate their efforts to support teachers, students and researchers during this challenging period. When it comes to the specific copyright law issues raised in the LIBER’s statement, we believe that some of them could be addressed under the national rules implementing the illustration for teaching exception set out in Article 5 of Directive 2001/29/EC. In addition, most Member States are currently working on the implementation of the Directive on copyright in the Digital Single Market . This Directive provides for specific rules to facilitate online distance teaching (Article 5) and online access to cultural heritage in the collection of libraries (Articles 8 to 11). The smooth transposition of this Directive may contribute to address the challenges described in your statement. Member States have to implement these rules by June next year. I would encourage LIBER’s national members to engage with the competent national authorities responsible for copyright to discuss their concerns and possible solutions that may be feasible in the context of EU copyright law. 

We appreciate the response but reiterate our point that current copyright legislation is insufficient to address the challenges being faced now as a result of coronavirus. Students and researchers are already running into major hurdles because of research which is locked down in libraries.

Several months since Covid-19 prompted an overnight switch to online teaching and research, and with remote learning expected to be the norm for some time yet, it is more important than ever for governments, publishers and authors to closely examine our statement and take action. Libraries need certainty that they can provide the resources required to keep education and teaching functioning and that is not possible under the current system, where rights for online teaching have to be cleared on a case-by-case basis (a costly and time-intense process). LIBER will therefore write again on the same issue to the Commission before schools and universities resume after the summer break.

Who will be the first to stand up for libraries and their users?