The European Commission is inviting all comers–from both inside and outside of the EU Single Market–to engage in a public consultation as part of the Commission’s review of European Union copyright rules. According to the public invitation,

All stakeholders are welcome to contribute to this consultation. Contributions are particularly sought from consumers, users, authors, performers, publishers, producers, broadcasters, intermediaries, distributors and other service providers, Collective Management Organisations, public authorities and Member States.

The instrument provided for submitting input is a 12-page questionnaire that asks 80 questions in a variety of open and closed formats.  Organizational respondents (whether commercial or noncommercial) are asked to identify and register themselves as such, but respondents have the option of submitting their input anonymously as well–though they are asked several questions about what “type of respondent” they are.

The questions posed in the survey are interesting. They ask about problems the respondent may have experienced as a result of the existing copyright regime (“Have you faced problems when seeking to provide online services across borders in the EU?” “How often are you asked to grant multi-territorial licenses?”) and solicit direct suggestions as to “how to tackle” those problems. It also includes explanations of relevant legal concepts and terms of art (such as “making available” and “download to own”) and provides background discussion of the particular complications introduced by library access, archival and preservation considerations, mass digitization, the (exceptionally fraught) concept of “e-lending,” and text/data mining.

Respondents are allowed to answer any or all questions; there is no expectation that everyone will answer all of them.

I shudder to think about the logistical challenges involved with administering, analyzing, and taking into account the responses to a survey like this. But it represents an intriguing and, in many ways, encouraging development on the part of a very large legislative body: an attempt to gather input from stakeholders across all affected public spheres before making changes to laws that will have an enormous impact on scholarship, trade, and private life.  It will be very interesting to see what comes out at the other end of this process, and to see how the public reacts both to the process itself and to its results.

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Rick Anderson

Rick Anderson

Rick Anderson is University Librarian at Brigham Young University. He has worked previously as a bibliographer for YBP, Inc., as Head Acquisitions Librarian for the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, as Director of Resource Acquisition at the University of Nevada, Reno, and as Associate Dean for Collections & Scholarly Communication at the University of Utah.


9 Thoughts on "Crowdsourcing Copyright Law in Europe"

Interesting indeed but shudder not. There are issue analysis firms that handle massive commenting drills like this. The US EPA sometimes gets 500,000 comments on a proposed regulation, which are publically available by the way. EPA then has to publish an issue analysis in the preamble to the final rule, actually responding to the comments. Knowing nothing about the EU, I wonder if the copyright issue analysis will be published, or the comments made public?

Looks like the comments will be made public. No word that I can find on the issue analysis. Perhaps a white paper. An issue tree of the questions would be interesting, to see where their interest lies, and does not lie.

Receiving, processing and analyzing 500,000 comments from your own country’s citizens is one thing — receiving, processing and analyzing heaven-knows-how-many written responses to a 12-page questionnaire from citizens of many different countries strikes me as a challenge an order of magnitude greater. But I’ve never done anything like that, so I could be wrong.

I suspect you are right, especially given the broad scope of these issues. In the EPA case most of the comments are identical emails from members of green groups like EDF, generated by a campaign. On the other hand the questionnaire approach means different analysts can focus on single questions or small related groups of questions.

The diversity of languages in the EU adds a complication but one that they have been dealing with for quite a while now. Still, it will take a high level of skill to abstract open ended responses. Perhaps they have a rubric that readers will use. That would be interesting to see.

This is the kind of canned response I was referring to with EPA, above. It gets discounted as far as the issues are concerned but if the EC also does statistical analysis, which seems likely, then it adds up. Do publishers have the mass constituencies to justify this sort of solicitation? Perhaps so given that there are thousands of publishers and many more journal editors, etc. An interesting concept, but how to execute it?

We do have the constituencies, David, especially those of us who are – or who publish for – societies, with memberships representing thousands or even millions of researchers and professionals. But executing this sort of response is challenging as you say.

I can think of several approaches, Alice. For example you could start with a white paper and/or a website like the one’s you have pointed out. Then let as many editors as possible know about it, either hoping for or directly asking for editorial communication in their journal. But the message must be author centric if it is the researchers that you wish to arouse from their dogmatic slumbers. We have discussed here surveys indicating that authors care about their copyrights. You are right that you have a massive multiplier if you can activate it.

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