Hosting public domain into a minefield: the resistance to art. 14 of the DSM Directive and to the related rules that transpose it into national law
Art. 14 of the DSM Directive plays a role for both economic and non-economic exploitations of works of visual art’s reproductions. The rule helps provide access to information on cultural heritage and therefore facilitates the educational mission of bodies managing cultural heritage. Besides this, this provision also introduces some additional freedom for exploiting some visual art-related material and elaborating derivative works. These initiatives can be taken by both market operators and public sector bodies managing cultural heritage. Basically, art. 14 confirms the policy initiatives according to which what is in the public domain shall remain into the public domain.
However, art. 14 is only a prima facie manifesto for public domain, and it merely refers to works of visual art. Its aim is under threat from different perspectives, i.e. copyright and neighbouring rights, let alone unfair practices, contractual provisions and national rules on cultural heritage alone.
First, this threat depends on the low requirements needed to enjoy copyright protection. The threshold of originality is so low that many reproductions of works of visual art can easily access copyright protection, including 3D reproductions that are currently more and more used, also for elaborating a growing number of derivative works, such as augmented or virtual reality experiences.
Secondly, several neighbouring rights can interfere with art. 14 and limit its impact on public domain. The reference goes not only to the (obvious) protection on non-creative photographs, but also to critical editions, editions principes, that some countries introduced. It also points out to the sui generis protection of databases, even though the latter is somehow limited by the Directive on Open Data.
Overall, to accomplish art. 14’s political goal as initially thought, courts shall interpret it in a consistent fashion with modern approaches favouring wide circulation and re-use of cultural heritage’s information.
[This is an Authors' Take post, which provides readers with an insight into current IP scholarship, featuring preliminary comments and thoughts from authors of articles accepted for publication in forthcoming issues of the Journal of Intellectual Property Law & Practice (OUP). The full text of this contribution will be made available on Advance Access soon]