EC directive endangers learning

February 19, 1999

University library bodies across the European Union have criticised the European Parliament for passing copyright laws that threaten to "make life extremely difficult" for lecturers, researchers and librarians.

Toby Bainton, secretary of the Standing Conference of National and University Libraries, said the European Commission's copyright directive, ratified last week, goes "far beyond" its aim of outlawing piracy.

The long-established practice of being able to copy a limited amount of material for private study, teaching and research purposes will end.

Instead, copyright holders will be entitled to "fair remuneration".

Mr Bainton warned that the directive threatens freedom of access to information in an increasingly digital world: "Even if you find what you want in a library you may not be able to consult it without payment because all viewing in an electronic world involves copying, and that is to be subject to fair remuneration."

The audiovisual industry has lobbied hard for the EC and European Parliament to clamp down on piracy. Mr Bainton said artists' and musicians' concerns have somehow become "mixed up" with those of librarians, resulting in a directive that puts a "stranglehold on scholarly communication".

If the directive is approved later this year, Mr Bainton predicted: "European education and research will suffer for decades because scholarly information cannot be transmitted, communicated or copied in Europe without additional payment."

Frank Harris, chairman of the Education Copyright Users Forum, hopes enough support will be mobilised in the coming months to alter the directive on its passage back to the commission and ultimately to the Council of Ministers, where Kim Howells will represent Britain.

Mr Harris said if a better balance is not achieved between the needs of the education world and the rights of copyright holders, the main beneficiaries will not be the artists but "multinational media conglomerates who are seeking to control all uses of content in the information society".

The Library Association said the parliament's decision raised the spectre of a "nightmare future" for librarians, educators and consumers with the prospect of even home recording of TV programmes becoming unlawful. Library Association chief executive Ross Shimmon said: "Copyright is a matter of democracy, not just a question of law or commerce. Everyone should be given equal access to the digital world. I urge everyone to demand a more balanced copyright regime."

The Brussels-based European Fair Practices in Copyright Campaign said its members, which include disability groups and consumer associations, are "shocked". Rodolfo Cattani, chairman of the European Blind Union, said it was "difficult to believe" that the parliament had failed to guarantee copyright exception for disabled people.

"For blind people, making a copy into Braille must be a fundamental right.

Recording of digital talking books is also under threat," Cattani said.

Ursula Pachl, legal adviser for the European Consumer Association says the directive will treat consumers as "criminals" if they download material or make personal copies of digital material for private or non-commercial use.

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