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

Access to and use of public sector documents and public speeches – new policy paper

Access and use of public sector documents and political speeches are key to a thriving democracy and civil society as they ensure transparency and accountability. Furthermore, they provide society with important historical records about political decision making. Copyright and paywalls, however, can render access to these materials difficult or prohibitively expensive. Today, COMMUNIA is releasing a new policy paper #16 “on public sector documents and public speeches” (also available as a PDF file), in which we are proposing EU level solutions to guarantee access to an usability of these essential documents, as well as to political and other public speeches.

The paper explores the legal basis for excluding public sector documents and public speeches from copyright both from a historical perspective citing the original intent of the Berne convention as well as by looking at contemporary legislation. While it is true that at present some EU member states individually already exclude public sector documents from copyright protection, this freedom is not clearly granted by all Member States. Public speeches, on the other hand, are subject to copyright exceptions in the vast majority of Member States, indicating a significant convergence of policy positions.

COMMUNIA therefore argues for an EU level solution, moving beyond the shortcomings of existing EU legislation, most notably the Open Data Directive. We advocate for excluding public sector documents from the scope of copyright protection altogether. For public speeches we similarly recommend exclusion from copyright or alternatively to turn the optional exceptions in Article 5(3)(e) and (f) of the InfoSoc Directive into mandatory exceptions. Resolving these issues would ideally be part of a more comprehensive regulation, a Digital Knowledge Act, which addresses the needs of universities and other knowledge institutions, such as schools and cultural heritage institutions, in the digital environment more broadly.

Note that we left aside publicly funded research, which we will address in our next policy paper.

Opened Book - Joannes Bemme, 1785 - 1818
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