Digitisation of Europe's cultural heritage, a "New Renaissance” bringing new opportunities

The Comité des Sages set on the Digitisation of Europe's cultural heritage delivered on 10 January the results of the assessment made over the previous months, highlighting the need to step up efforts to put online the collections held by Member states in all their libraries, archives and museums. The report stresses the benefits of making Europe's culture and knowledge more easily accessible, also underlining its potential economic benefits for the development of innovative services in sectors like tourism, research and education.

The report put forward by the Comité des Sages on Digitisation of Europe's cultural heritage under the title "The New Renaissance", endorses the Digital Agenda's objective of strengthening Europe's digital library Europeana and suggests solutions for making works covered by copyright available online.

Both the European Commission Vice-President for the Digital Agenda, Neelie Kroes, and Commissioner responsible for Education and Culture, Androulla Vassiliou, highlighted that bringing European museums' and libraries' collections online would not only show Europe's rich history and culture but can also usher in new benefits for education, for innovation and for generating new economic activities.

Taking advantage of new technology and economy in the digital era brings out new opportunities for cultural and creative industries, a sector which now represents a significant share in EU's GDP. The recommendations made within the report show some ways to take these opportunities while respecting the interests of creators.

Main conclusions and recommendations of Comité des Sages report "The New Renaissance"

  • The Europeana portal which has now gone far beyond expectations, should become the central reference point for Europe's online cultural heritage. Member States must ensure that all material digitised with public funding is available on the site, and bring all their public domain masterpieces into Europeana by 2016. Cultural institutions, the European Commission and Member States should actively and widely promote Europeana.
  • Works that are covered by copyright, but are no longer distributed commercially, need to be brought online. It is primarily the role of rights-holders to digitise these works and exploit them. But, if rights holders do not do so, cultural institutions must have a window of opportunity to digitise material and make it available to the public, for which right holders should be remunerated.
  • EU rules for orphan works (whose rights holders cannot be identified) need to be adopted as soon as possible. The Report defines eight fundamental conditions for any solution.
  • Member States need to considerably increase their funding for digitisation in order to generate jobs and growth in the future. The funds needed to build 100 km of roads would pay for the digitisation of 16% of all available books in EU libraries, or the digitisation of every piece of audio content in EU Member States' cultural institutions.
  • Public-private partnerships for digitisation must be encouraged. They must be transparent, non-exclusive and equitable for all partners, and must result in cross-border access to the digitised material for all. Preferential use of the digitised material granted to the private partner should not exceed seven years.
  • To guarantee the preservation of collections in their digital format, a second copy of this cultural material should be archived at Europeana. In addition, a system should be developed so that any cultural material that currently needs to be deposited in several countries would only be deposited once.

The Comité des Sages on Digitisation was made up by Maurice Lévy (Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of advertising and communications company Publicis), Elisabeth Niggemann (Director-General of the German National Library and chair of the Europeana Foundation) and Jacques De Decker (author and Permanent Secretary of Belgium's Royal Academy of French language and literature). Their recommendations will feed into the Commission's broader strategy, under the Digital Agenda for Europe, to help cultural institutions make the transition towards the digital age.