Status of public works in France

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Proposal posted on the Assises du Numérique wiki:

Status of public works vis-à-vis copyright and related rights: Perspective of Wikimedia France. Wikimedia France, which is legally a French association under the law of July 1901, whose objectives are the free dissemination of knowledge and the promotion and support of projects hosted by the Wikimedia Foundation, considers the launch of a development plan regarding the digital economy by Mr. Éric Besson, Secretary of State for the Development of the Digital Economy, very positive. The 27 areas of work outlined in this plan are interesting, but we would nevertheless propose six steps to a national promotion of public works.

In this time of changing media and rise of electronic communications, hesitation and closure characterize the policies of France on public cultural works. These policies internationally do not contribute to the diffusion of France's culture and internally do not resolve the cultural divide, rather they extend it.

The U.S. government policy has been to distribute its documents as widely as possible, notably those describing its aerospace performance. The result is well-known: the omnipresence of American action in the media and fiction, while European organizations are less known to the general public — the general public knows NASA, but the CNES and ESA deserve more recognition. Cultural diffusion, in turn, is changing rapidly. Several large anglophone collections (Library of Congress,Smithsonian Institution, etc.) have decided to make documents available to the public... Should we expect that, again, they are taken up everywhere before all deplore their ubiquity?

We propose a radical change of perspective, to ensure that the difficulties of administrative decision can no longer prevent open usage, especially on the Internet.
While restricted and locked distribution is the rule, and free dissemination the exception, we suggest that freedom become the rule and restriction the exception. We propose that French scientific and cultural institutions, notably museums, distribute reproductions under free licenses. This distribution would serve both the needs of the public, and the spread of French culture throughout the world.

Our suggestionsEdit

We believe that the weakness of French policy on the status and appreciation of public works is the absence of firm and realistic guidance. Each organization is largely left to itself, including organizations for which the distribution of documents is quite secondary, so that policies lack coherence and clarity. By comparison, the strength of U.S. government policy is instead its simplicity. Any policy that requires a reasoned action on the part of agencies to allow dissemination or reuse of their works will suffer from the indecision and inaction of governments. That is why we suggest to reverse the process: an administration shall, if it wishes, take a reasoned decision not to allow the free reuse of its productions. In order to avoid governments using by reflex through this system without however making use of the works they manage, which would be a pure waste, this decision must be effectively followed by effect.

More precisely, we suggest the following provisions:

Measure 1. The rule will be simple: the documents produced by public organizations are placed under a free license, adapted to French law, having the sole condition of reuse that the work be clearly attributed to its authors and the agency (e.g., a description of such a license can be found on the "Creatives Commons" website).

Measure 2. An organization that would wish to deviate from this rule must provide the Agency for Public Intangibles of France (APIE) documentation showing a real interest in heritage. This file must specify the funds capable of operating, the clients targeted for commercialism, the terms and prices, as well as the expected revenue over three to five years. APIE may reject files that do not seem to correspond to a serious economic project. Otherwise, it will allow operation for a period of five years at most, after which the file must be reassessed notably regarding the produced benefits.

Measure 3. Each organization, in particular those overriding the distribution under a free license, must clearly state the conditions for the distribution and reuse of its works in the form of a license chosen from a list prepared by APIE.

Measure 4. APIE will create a short list of free licenses and licenses adapted to overriding uses. These licenses must be provided both in summary form and under a specific legal code, which will avoid such vague formulations as "commercial" without details, or "royalty-free". These licenses will not include clauses that are superfluous or causing of legal uncertainty, such as bans on forms of uses that are already prohibited by French law. We suggest the French versions of the Creative Commons "CC-BY" (attribution) and "CC-BY-SA" (attribution, share-alike) licenses. Note that the Creative Commons "non-commercial" (containing "NC") and "no derivative works" (containing "ND") licenses are not free.

Measure 5. The possibility of a shorter copyright term (e.g., limited to 20 years) for works produced by the State and public bodies should be considered.

Measure 6. We consider that France and the French government have an essential role to play in the cultural field. French culture must have its rightful place on the Internet, both to the French public and to the foreign public. The American example demonstrates that wide dissemination of public domain or "free" images of good quality in a domain easily leads to a good representation on Wikipedia and other websites. These images, on oft-cited sites in the major search engines, are an effective and inexpensive method of international promotion. We therefore suggest that French cultural institutions, especially museums, distribute with free licenses reproductions of sufficient quality of their works. They could at the same time keep higher-resolution documents under more restrictive conditions, which are used for posters, art publications, and other materials with high added value. These reproductions could be placed on Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons, and according to the rules of these sites, would all clearly identify their origin. Such an action would be "win-win-win":

  • Museums will have their works presented in the artists' biographies and descriptions of art movements. Their national and international reputation can only be enhanced, which will in fact provide them with free promotion.
  • Wikipedia content will be enriched by French institutions.
  • The French and foreign public will have greater access to French culture.