Dutch National Library gives full access to in copyright material

The National Library of the Netherlands has made over the last years some great digitisation efforts. Amongst others, they have published their medieval manuscript collection and made their newspaper archive available under an open license. To make this material available they have to overcome many copyright issues. Their huge collection of material is created by many different authors. It can take years to track all the inheritors to ask for permission. For that reason they have experimented with an ‘opt-out’ model where they asked authors or inheritors to contact them when they did not want something to be published.

Page from the magazine “Op de Hoogte, een maandschrift voor de huiskamer” (Up to Date, a magazine for the living room), 1903.

In September 2012, the National Library of the Netherlands (Koninklijke Bibliotheek, KB) announced that they would publicise their digitised magazines collection from 1890-1939. Some of the articles or photos in the magazines are still under copyright because the material is only out of copyright 70 years after the death of the author. Because magazines are filled with content from many different authors, some parts of a magazine can be out of copyright, but others are not. They calculated that looking for all the inheritors of all the authors in the magazines would take them about 5 years and a lot of money, money that can be used a lot better to actually digitise material. For that reason they announced that they would make all available and requested authors to let them know if they had a problem with that. They exactly got one response from a family member of an author which loved the idea that his grandfather’s material would be made available again.

They also got a letter from two collective copyrights management organisations. They informed the KB they were representing some of the authors, and suggested to settle the copyrights. Because no complete and practicle inventory of rightholders and members of copyright organisations could be made, the KB has agreed on a collective license for all under copyright material. The Royal Library can show all the magazines and everybody is able to browse through them and use them for research. However, when somebody wants to reuse them commercially, they have to get in touch with the rights management organisations.

It is a great achievement that material of which parts of are potentially still under copyright can be made available without doing years of research first. While the commercial value of these magazines is very little, there are great opportunities for research as these magazines give a great insight in what was going on in the Dutch society during that period. Right now, 80 magazines can be found online with a total of 1,5 million digitised pages. In the coming months, more magazines will be added and a stunning total of 6,5 million pages will be made available.

However, because it was not posible to use one clear and open license, it remains rather unclear when a user has to ask the collective rights organisation for approval. As we have written before, it is very hard to define when a digitised work is being used commercially. It is for example not clear if we can feature these works on the Public Domain Review while this is clearly a not-for-profit effort. We hope that someday the material which is most likely completely out of copyright can be made available free to reuse without any restrictions, as all material in the public domain should be.

All the magazines can be found on their website.