The EU will fund a feasibility study for a public repository of public domain works

November 25, 2022

Earlier this week, the European Parliament adopted the 2023 EU budget, which includes funding for a pilot project on “Public EU directory of works in the public domain and under free licenses.” The project, which has been proposed by MEP Patrick Breyer, takes its inspiration from a white paper authored by Felix Reda and Paul Keller that we published back in 2021.

With the allocation of funds for the pilot project, the proposal to set up a EU-wide registry of Public Domain works and openly licensed work moves one step further to reality. The pilot project included in the EU budget is intended to

… assess the opportunity of developing public repositories of Public Domain and openly licensed works in order to enhance legal certainty for all types of works in the public domain or not subject to copyright protection.

Our 2021 white paper, at the basis of this proposal, proposed to leverage some elements of the controversial Article 17 of the 2019 copyright directive to encourage online platforms to share information that they hold about public domain works and openly licensed works in a public repository. The white paper imagines a setup in which online platforms

…work together to build a shared public repository of Public Domain and openly licensed works. Such a shared public repository would provide value both to the platform providers themselves and to the public. The public would benefit from having access to a growing repertoire of verified Public Domain and openly licensed works, while platform providers would have access to an industry-standard resource that allows them to fulfil their obligations under Article 17 [not to block or remove legal content].

The pilot project proposal adopted by the European Parliament builds on this idea of a public repository built on contributions from online platforms. More specifically, the budget allocated by the EU parliament is intended to fund

… a feasibility study, […] to determine the technical needs, including from platforms, and ensure the buy-in from stakeholders. The project would also develop a prototype database that could be used, referenced and augmented by platforms, content providers, institutions of the GLAM sector (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums) or other non-for-profit organisations working with public domain or freely licensed content. Such public repositories of freely reusable works could help to unlock the societal value of these works, and thereby truly enable access to and promotion of culture, and the access to cultural heritage. The above work is to be seen as a pilot that will develop our knowledge in the field and help confirm the need and opportunity to possibly develop this prototype into a fully fleshed database.

The exact nature of the pilot project will now need to be further scoped by the European Commission and can be expected to be launched in the course of the next year.