This Memorandum is a major step for bringing Europe's rich literary and audiovisual heritage online, as it deals with the issue of orphan works – books, films, photographs or songs for which it is impossible to identify or locate the rightholders. As a consequence, rights cannot be cleared and therefore the works cannot be digitised or made available to the public. It clarifies how searches for rightholders have to be handled for libraries and archives and representatives of publishers, photographers, authors, record and film companies. Orphan works represent a substantial part of the collections of Europe's cultural institutions: for example, the British Library estimates that 40 percent of its copyrighted collections are orphan works. 50,000 requests were also made for re-using orphan works in Europe's film archives according to a recent survey from the Association des Cinémathèques Européennes.
In parallel, the High Level Group on Digital Libraries, chaired by Viviane Reding, adopted practical guidelines for partnerships between cultural institutions and private organisations. These partnerships such as the existing collaboration between the British Library and Cengage Gale on historical newspapers – are essential to provide funding and expertise for digitisation projects
In relation to copyright issues, the High Level Group adopted a final report in which it endorsed a new model license for making works that are out of print or out of distribution accessible for all on the internet. It also gave guidance on copyright issues related to the preservation of web-content by cultural institutions. In the area of scientific information, publishers and scientists presented the progress of a large scale project on the effects of open access to scientific journals.
European Digital Libraries is one of the flagship initiatives of Commissioner Reding’s initiative “i2010 – a European Information Society for growth and jobs”, adopted by the Commission on 1 June 2005 (IP/05/643). On 25 August 2006, the Commission adopted a Recommendation on digitisation and digital preservation (IP/06/1124, MEMO/06/311) which urged EU Member States to set up large-scale digitisation facilities, so as to accelerate the process of getting Europe's cultural heritage online via the European digital library. In February 2007, the Commission adopted a Communication on "Scientific Information in the Digital Age: Access, Dissemination and Preservation" to examine and support new ways of promoting better access to scientific information online and to preserve research results digitally for future generations (see IP/07/190 and MEMO/07/57).
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