Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the British Library


  1.  The British Library welcomes the opportunity to contribute to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee's inquiry into New Media and the Creative Industries. The British Library plays a vital function in the life of the nation by managing, preserving, and ensuring access in perpetuity to the UK's national published archive and the national repository of sound both as a cultural heritage resource and also in support of research and innovation. The Library is fast becoming the first choice provider of content, navigation and research services for the creative industries: the BL contains a vast array of inspirational material and expertise that support the creative industries and, through our Business & Intellectual Property Centre services, we support creative people in developing, protecting and exploiting their ideas. We operate at the fulcrum of the creative economy and we recognise that the ongoing digital revolution in production and distribution technologies is causing fundamental shifts across industry business models and consumer patterns, and is raising broader questions about the traditional balance of rights in intellectual property, between the rights holder and the public good. From this perspective we believe we have a unique and valuable contribution to offer the Committee in its inquiry.


  2.  The British Library was established by statute in 1972 as the national library of the United Kingdom. The BL is one of the world's greatest research libraries. It benefits from legal deposit and is the main custodian of the nation's written cultural heritage; it is also the national repository for recorded sound and its collections contain much image material. The Library's incomparable collections have developed over 250 years; they cover three millennia of recorded knowledge, represent every known written language, every aspect of human thought and a considerable sound, music and recordings archive.

  3.  Sir Isaac Newton said: "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants". This is what the BL seeks to assist its users to do. In 2004-05, more than 5.25 million British Library collection items were consulted by, or loaned to, academic researchers, business researchers, and private individuals. The Library is an integral component of the UK's national research infrastructure and it plays a correspondingly significant role in ensuring the research excellence of the UK and in supporting creativity and innovation.

  4.  The Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003 has extended the Library's legal deposit entitlement to digital items. The British Library has an ex officio seat on the Legal Deposit Advisory Panel which was established in 2005 to advise the Secretary of State on the content and timing of Regulations under the Legal Deposit Libraries Act. The Library has also played a leading role, in anticipation of Regulations, in the work of the Joint Committee on Legal Deposit (whose members include all six legal deposit libraries and seven trade associations representing publishers) in testing the technical infrastructure, mechanisms and procedures relating to the deposit, storage and preservation of electronic publishing formats. Sound recordings do not come under the provisions of the Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003 but are collected under voluntary arrangements with the British Phonographic Industry and the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society. These arrangements work well, and the Library estimates that it receives in excess of 90% of commercially-produced audio recordings, mostly on CD. The BL has also been instrumental in the establishment of the UK Literary Heritage Group, a working group of key UK stakeholders led by the Rt Hon Lord Smith of Finsbury to develop and implement a national strategy to benefit the UK cultural and intellectual environment by ensuring that archives of pre-eminent modern and contemporary authors are retained and made accessible to UK audiences.

  5.  The Library has decades of practical experience of operating within the library privilege and fair dealing provisions of the current copyright legislation and hence it has a keen appreciation of the complex balance of rights in copyright law. The Library's Chief Executive, Lynne Brindley, was a member of the commission that produced the RSA Adelphi Charter ( and intellectual property. The Library welcomes the Charter for raising the profile of intellectual property issues, for stimulating debate, and for articulating clearly the public interest, and commends it to the Committee. The British Library sits on the advisory panel of the Creative Archive Licence at the BBC, and is involved in looking at the issues of extending creative works into the public domain under a "one size fits all" licence. The Library has commissioned a paper with the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR), along with the BBC and Microsoft News International amongst others, on the topic of "Intellectual Property and the Public Sphere."

  6.  The Library is also a leader in digitisation, seeing this as a critical means of enhancing, increasing, and extending access to its collection materials in the interest both of research and public understanding and engagement, without compromising their conservation. Two major digitisation projects are currently under way in the British Library, focused on sound and newspapers, and with £3.1 million funding from the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC). The first project will digitise up to two million pages from 19th-century British newspapers and the second nearly 4,000 hours of recordings from the Library's Sound Archive. In early November 2005, the BL and Microsoft announced a strategic partnership to digitise 25 million pages of content from the Library's collections in 2006-07, with a long-term commitment to digitise still more in the future. The British Library is also a significant publisher in its own right. Our list includes sound and music (a recent example being The Essential Shakespeare Live CD, a collection of live Shakespeare recordings, the result of a joint project between the British Library and the Royal Shakespeare Company), bibliographies and large-scale bibliographic products published electronically, reference works, and general and illustrated books.

  7.  The British Library contains a vast array of inspirational material and expertise that supports the creative industries. The Library's collections constitute an incredibly rich resource, particularly for those working in graphic design, product design, the performing arts, architecture, advertising, TV and radio, and fashion. The Library recognises that it also has an important role to play in helping people turn their creativity into commercial success. The Library has a proven track record of supporting design-led entrepreneurs, including Trevor Bayliss (the inventor of the clockwork radio), James Dyson (inventor of the brand-leader Dual CycloneTM vacuum cleaner), and Mark Sheahan (Innovator of the Year 2003, designer of Simply Squeeze to Open packaging) and, through our Business & Intellectual Property Centre services, we support creative people in developing, protecting and exploiting their ideas.

  8.  We have received an award of £1 million from the London Development Agency to transform our Business & Intellectual Property Centre (based in our St Pancras building) from a successful pilot project to a permanent resource. The Centre offers arguably the largest collection of market research reports in the world, free access to on-line subscription databases giving up-to-the-minute company information and financial news, and access to the Library's extensive intellectual property resources, including its collection of 50 million patents. The service is targetted at SMEs, entrepreneurs and in London and beyond. This first phase of the Centre is due to be complete in spring 2006.

  9.  The British Library adds value to the Creative Industries as follows:

    —  Enabling inspiration, protection of creative capital, and business development.

    —  Encouraging innovation and inspiring creativity.

    —  Helping users develop, protect and commercialize their ideas/business.

    —  Providing world class information services and business advice in dedicated space.

    —  Providing access to experts in creative disciplines.

    —  Enabling research across subject and organisational boundaries.

    —  Adding commercial value so businesses can become more competitive.


  10.  Copyright law has traditionally sought to strike an appropriate balance between the rights of creators to be recognised and rewarded for their work on the one hand; and on the other, the public interest in ensuring access to information and ideas as the basis for developing new knowledge. The purpose of intellectual property law has been—and should be in the future—to balance the sharing of knowledge and the rewarding of innovation; such balance being essential to sustain a healthy creative economy and an informed citizenry.

  11.  Under the current legislation, the creators' right of ownership (copyright) is assured until a period after their death, when their work passes fully into the public domain. During the copyright period, further opportunities are available for legitimate public good access through "fair dealing" and "library privilege". The British Library believes that "digital is not different" and that same principal of balance should be sustained regardless of format of work for the digital age.

  12.  The Library fully recognises that there is need to modernise copyright legislation. The digital revolution is fundamentally challenging many of the old certainties, and anomalies and inefficiencies in the current legislation need to be addressed. However the Library's fundamental concern is to ensure that the principle of fair dealing and library privilege for print is suitably re-interpreted and sustained for the digital age in such a way that an appropriate balance is struck between the interests of the rights holder and the public good. Much of the debate at the moment is being dominated by extremes; the British Library considers that it is uniquely placed to offer a balanced contribution to the Committee's inquiry.

  13.  There are a number of specific issues we believe the Committee should be aware of in conducting its inquiry:

    —  The impact of new industry business models on the public good: The Napster case has led to a fundamental re-definition of the music industry's business model, and the other creative industries are now also seeking to redefine and reposition for the future. A number of related recommendations for legislative change are now emerging. For example, an extension of the copyright period to 95 years for rights of recording and limitations on library privilege could all serve to marginalise the important principles of fair dealing and the public good. The British Library is concerned to ensure that the important public good elements in the existing law are maintained.

    —  Complexity and expense of rights clearance:

    —  Clearing the rights of existing works for use in further works (for example compilation CDs or public sector digitisation projects) presents many problems and represents a major cost in such a project, as has been born out on the British Library's JISC-funded audio digitisation project Typically, different individuals or collecting societies hold the rights in different kinds of original works, both published or unpublished and many are untraceable or fail to respond to enquiry at all. Significantly, a Congressional Research Service report for US Congress, Copyright Term Extension: Estimating the Economic Values (1998) estimated that 98% of works have no commercial value after 50 years; that is, they generate no royalties after this period.

    —  The time consuming and expensive administration of rights clearance for digitisation has become a major obstacle to projects funded by the public purse. It is in the public interest for there to be some statutory provision which will have the effect of simplifying procedures and of indemnifying users of affected works.

    —  Orphan works: These are works that are still in copyright but where the rights holder cannot be traced. After 50 years, over 50% of works are believed to be orphan works. The British Library believes there would be a tangible economic benefit for the UK economy if a provision were established to streamline the process of seeking rights clearance to deal with the use of orphan works.

    —  Digital Rights Management (DRMs):[30] The emergence of DRMs—software that can be embedded in a work to limit and control the use of that item—are now a powerful tool at the disposal of the creative industries. DRMs are given total protection under EU Directive, with no exceptions for legal circumvention in the interests of disabled access, long term preservation or where the DRM prevents fair dealing use. DRMs do not have to expire, and can effectively prevent the work reverting to the public domain at the expiry of the copyright period. In addition, as we prepare for legal deposit of digital items we are discovering that DRMs can pose a real, technical threat to our ability to conserve the nation's creative output in perpetuity.

    —  Licences emerging as the key transaction method: Licenses are emerging as the key transaction method in many of the new business models being developed by the creative industries. Digital media and DRMs in particular allow for temporary licensed access to be given to consumers (as opposed to outright sale) in a way that was previously impossible. Many of these licences deliver lower-level access and copying rights than would have been available under fair dealing in copyright law. Unchecked, this trend will drastically undermine public good access in the longer term.


  14.  In conclusion, the Library would underline the critical significance of this issue for research, scholarship, and innovation and for the creative economy of the UK. The Library recognises that there is need to modernise copyright legislation for the digital age. In that context the British Library attaches enormous importance to ensuring that the principle of fair dealing and library privilege—which have long existed in the analogue environment and which in its view strike an appropriate balance in the public interest between the rightsholder and user for print—is now re-interpreted and sustained for the digital age. This will be a key point that the Library will seek to emphasise in its evidence to the Gowers Review of Intellectual Property.

February 2006

30   The British Library submitted written evidence in December 2005 to the All Party Parliamentary Internet Group's inquiry into Digital Rights Management and gave oral evidence at a hearing held on 2 February 2006. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2007
Prepared 16 May 2007