Beyond the Beginning: The Global Digital Library

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The British Library, United Kingdom


Information is increasingly becoming and international commodity, but copyright and associated intellectual property rights are, by and large, ruled by national legislation. It is particularly important, as we enter the electronic era, that the concerned actors, across geographical boundaries and across areas of expertise, come together to agree how to manage rights in an international electronic environment. This paper concentrates on developments in the Electronic Copyright Management System area including projects such as COPICAT, CITED, COPYSMART, COPEARMS and IMPRIMATUR and their significance for the information provision industries.


Note on the author

The author of this paper is responsible for all aspects of copyright law at the British Library.

Two basic issue areas currently can be identified in the world of electronic copyright as keys to the future for libraries and their users. They are:

Copyright fundamentally involves monopoly, but there can be reasons for exceptions. In addition, there are large difficulties in assessing the integrity of material on the internet and World Wide Web.


The European Commission (EC) has invested a lot of time, effort and money in studying these issues. The following major projects have marked milestones in this work.


The author first became involved in the Commission’s initiatives in this field in 1989 at a meeting of experts to begin planning the CITED project in Paris. This was the first EC project to study all facets of the Electronic Copyright Management (ECM) regime. The CITED model involved:

Although of some use to libraries, the overall thrust comes from the entertainment industries These markets are very large — in this context, it is interesting to note that the on-line karaoke industry in Japan has a value of some £300 million. The CITED approach is likely to be carried along mainly by leisure industry models because of the size of the markets involved although considerable work is also taking place in the scholarly communication industry as well.

CITED attempted to define then following areas:

The CITED model spawned a number of other projects — "a CITED industry"


This project was developed to address copyright ownership protection in computer assisted training. Its purpose primarily was to deliver documents remotely while allowing owners to retain control. The project developed a system to save material into a volatile workspace on a temporary basis only.

The frequently made assumption that ownership rests with the publisher of a work is not always correct. Ownership can be more diffuse. Rights can rest with a range of players involved with a work, including film and sound companies and the author. It is sometimes uncertain whether publishers have the rights they sell. Notably, the rights for out-of-print books often revert to the author.


This is seeking to develop "smart card" technology to manage copyright. The greatest problem areas raise is that of the Trusted Third Party which collects the money. COPYSMART has, however, produced a workable demonstrator.


A large co-ordinating project for an electronic authors’ rights management system

It provided advice on:


A library science project, this began three years ago. MURIEL is concerned with multimedia education systems for libraries and involves remote interactive processing of electronic documents. It has experienced problems in the area of using hypertext links, infringement of copyright in documents and possible accusations of republishing.


IMPRIMATUR stands for Intellectual Multimedia Property Right Model and Terminology for Universal Reference. Funded by the EC, it is attempting to build global consensus (for example, with Japan) on how digitised material can be handled most effectively. It is one of the largest EU projects in this field and has enormous implications world-wide. Although it began a s a consensus-building exercise it has actually developed software and hardware systems capable of stand-alone operations.


The European Commission has also established a European Copyright User Platform (ECUP) enabling debate and consensus building between key players, especially libraries and publishers.


It is hoped that from all of this work, a consensus will emerge to enable the management of intellectual property to be more effective. It is clear that such a consensus must deal with issues such as payment, integrity, control of use and data collection.

Two conferences are shortly to be organised covering copyright management systems, exceptions to copyright across all industries and involving not only text but sound, video, images and film.

[98] This account was drafted for this report by The Marc Fresko Consultancy. It is based on notes taken during the presentation.

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