Why the German Digital Library should learn from Europeana

Launch of the DDB. Jill Cousins, Hermann Parzinger, Elke Harjes-Ecker, Matthias Harbort (from left to right) – Photo: Julia Hoppen

On the 29th of November 2012, the beta version of the German Digital Library (DDB) was officially launched. After five years of preparation and discussions with a large number of cultural institutions, it was finally time to bring it to the public. Herman Parzinger, head of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, explained in the press-release:

“The goal of the Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek (DDB) is to offer everyone unrestricted access to Germany’s cultural and scientific heritage, that is, access to millions of books, archived items, images, sculptures, pieces of music and other sound documents, as well as films and scores, from all over Germany”

To reach this goal, a lot of work needs to be done. At the moment, around 5.5 million metadata records can be found in the portal. Around 3 million come from a single institution, the Landesarchiv Baden-Württemberg. Currently 90 institutions provide data to the library and the three biggest organisations make up more than 80% of all records. Goal of the DBB is to include the metadata records of more than 30.000 German cultural institutions.

In many ways, the German Digital Library reminds of the Europeana project when it was launched in 2008. At that time, France was responsible for about 50% of all records in the Europeana portal and many countries were not present at all. In the past four years, Europeana has managed to include data from each EU country, and continues expanding it (see visualisation).

The interface of the DDB is very similar to Europeana as well. A simple search box combined with the possibility to filter the results in many different ways, for example by content provider, period, or location. As Europeana, the DDB is a search portal which links the user to the actual digitised object on the institutions webpage. They only host the metadata.

Homepage of the German Digital Library

A very nice aspect of the German Digital Library is the fact that the data providers have taken extra care for the quality of their metadata. This results in a very rich collection of information about the objects. Europeana, who has currently more than 20 million objects in its database, has suffered greatly from bad quality metadata and is going to make improvement of it one of their top-priorities for 2013. As the German Digital Library will become the official national aggregator for Germany to Europeana, this will greatly help.

Unfortunately, one major difference with the current Europeana project is how the DDB deals with copyright. Europeana has recently released all of their metadata records under a CC0 public domain waiver, making all of their metadata records free to use and reuse by anybody for any purpose without any restrictions. This combined with the new API (which the DDB aims to provide soon as well) has led to various ways of reuse by for example other national aggregators such as Hispana, and a number of applications that search the Europeana collection in innovative ways. Europeana also included a search filter for the copyright status of the content so users can get only results where they can be sure it can be reused without any legal implications.

The German Digital Library is quite the opposite. Their Terms of Use state clearly that:

  1. The DDB and its data suppliers retain all copyright and other industrial property rights to the public, freely accessible (and free of charge) digital content, derivatives and metadata including layout, software and their content in line with the principle of „free access – rights reserved“.
  2. Any use of the digital content, derivatives and metadata for commercial purposes is hereby prohibited, unless approved by the title holder in individual cases. As a rule, the DDB is not the title holder itself, but only acts as an agency providing access to the digital content, derivatives and metadata, so that any further rights of utilisation must be acquired from the respective institute that has contributed said content.

These copyright restrictions make it very hard for users to do anything with the metadata from the DDB. Especially when the API is launched, it is practically impossible for developers to create something with it as they will constantly have to ask the hundreds of different institutions if it is allowed. When Europeana started, there was also no consensus how to deal with the rights of the aggregated metadata and it took them four years to solve this issue. Over the last couple of years, the European Union, Europeana itself, and many other organisations have released reports and documents that clearly outline the advantages of open data for cultural institutions, as well as for society and research. This combined with the fact that it is not possible to find any legal information about the digitised objects themselves on the DDB website, let alone a filter function, makes it really hard for a user to decide whether or not they can make use of the object.

It seems like a strange move that the DDB is so restrictive, especially as they are to become the official German aggregator to Europeana. Europeana has been very clear since last September that the rights of all the data provided have to be waived away by using the CC0 declaration. Furthermore, many objects from for example the Landesarchiv Baden-Württemburg can already be found on Europeana, under a free license.

With all of the world’s heritage is becoming available online, great new possibilities arise. Different collections can be connected and linked and institutions can enrich their own data with the use of others. The history of Germany can not only be found in German institutions, but all over the world. By combining these different collections, historians can create a much more sophisticated history and find new stories and insights. This can only be achieved if the licenses being used by the different institutions and aggregators allow this, and the DDB term of use clearly do not do this.

As the German Digital Library is still in a beta-version, much can change. They are a direct partner of Europeana so it seems very easy to learn from the experiences of Europeana and how decisions in the past about copyright have worked out for them. Europeana has shown that European institutions are willing to provide data that can be freely reused, why start the discussion all over again in Germany?