Engraving of the female personification of the gift of learning in a niche, one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. She wears a crown of leaves and in her right hand she holds a caduceus. A radiant sun around her head.

As we’re approaching the European election season, COMMUNIA is rolling out its proposals for the ‘24-’29 legislature. In an op-ed published on Euractiv, we ask the next Commission and Parliament to finally put the needs of Europe’s knowledge institutions, such as libraries, universities and schools front and center.

Over the next five years, we need to remove the barriers that prevent knowledge institutions from fulfilling their public mission in the digital environment. Specifically, we need a targeted legislative intervention – a Digital Knowledge Act –  that enables knowledge institutions to offer the same services online as offline.

Such a regulation would require a few surgical interventions in copyright law, such as the introduction of a unified research exception (see our Policy Recommendation #9) and an EU-wide e-lending right (see our Policy Recommendation #10). However, it would mostly involve measures that fall outside of the scope of recent copyright reform discussions.

Above all, we’re envisioning a number of safeguards that would protect knowledge institutions against the abuse of property rights. Due to the complex and fragmented state of European copyright law, many institutions shy away from fully exercising their usage rights. We believe that an exemption from liability for those who act in good faith and believe that their activities are legal would mitigate this chilling effect (see our Policy Recommendation #17).

Another limiting factor for knowledge institutions in the digital realm are unfair licensing conditions. We believe that rightsholders should be obliged to license works under reasonable conditions to libraries as well as educational and research institutions.

Finally, knowledge institutions should be allowed to circumvent technological protection measures where locks prevent legitimate access and use of works, such as uses covered by limitations and exceptions (see our Policy Recommendation #13).

These demands are far from new and even the idea of a Digital Knowledge Act has been floating around in Brussels policy circles for a long time. Now it is up to the incoming legislators to show that they have the political will to tackle these problems in a comprehensive manner to unlock the full potential of Europe’s knowledge institutions.

King Charles II of England addresses members of the Estates General, 1660, Theodor Matham, after Jacob Toorenvliet, 1660
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