in Copyright, Digitising History, Open Access

Europeana and Copyright

What is Europeana? It is Europe’s largest digital, online, freely accessible collection of cultural heritage data.

Simply put, it houses collections of Europe’s musical, artistic and historical heritage from over 2,500 European institutions. According to the Europeana website, approximately 10% of Europe’s heritage has been digitised and harnessed by the organisation – that’s around 300 million digitised books, paintings, letters, recordings, interviews, photographs and so on. Once this has been done, Europeana then aggregates the files, organises them and presents them to the viewer in an engaging and interactive manner.

However, Europeana is experiencing a problem with making its material available to the public.Only 34% of this material is available online as much of it is held behind copyright barriers, locked away in archives and libraries from the public. In an effort to increase the amount of publicly-accessible digital heritage, Europeana is actively involved in lobbying the European Parliament for improved copyright laws. (“Europeana Strategy 2020: ‘We Transform The World With Culture'”)

That is not to say that Europeana aims to demolish all copyright laws. Copyright is itself is just and allows individuals and institutions to lay claim to what is rightfully theirs. In an open letter on copyright reform to the European Commission, signed by over 60 directors of European cultural heritage institutions, copyright is explained:

“Let us be clear, when we ask for copyright rules that allow us to fully represent our collections online, we are not asking for rules that undermine the ability of creators, publishers or other intermediaries to earn a living from their creativity. We want the ability to provide online access to those works in our collections that are not actively exploited by their creators or subsequent rights holders.”(Cousins, J., 2015)

The letter then addresses the underlying problem of copyright overuse:

“A copyright system that locks away large parts of our collections in museums or confines them to physical archives and libraries, that are not always easy to reach, benefits no one.”

Thus, Europeana’s strategy for 2020 is to “make all digitised Public Domain material freely available for re-use without any restrictions.” The organisation also aims to lobby the European Parliament for the introduction of improved copyright laws.

Europeans stresses that it does not seek to hinder libraries, museums and other public institutions in their work. It aims to become the go-to organisation for anyone seeking information concerning Europe’s heritage but to achieve this co-operating with cultural institutions across Europe and ensuring that they are represented at European level.

Before I did my research for this blog post, I was unaware of the many issues that digitising our heritage involves – not only are attention to details and care for artifacts important; many other aspects, such as copyright issues and redistribution laws, also come into play and sometimes prove to be considerable obstacles.



“Europeana Strategy 2020: ‘We Transform The World With Culture'”. Europeana Strategy 2020. N.p., 2016. Available at: [last accessed 05/10/2016].

Cousins, J., (2015). Open Letter on Copyright Reform. Europeana Pro. Available at: [last accessed 05/10/2016].

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