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Framing the reuse of digital cultural heritage


Complicated intellectual property rights and technical standards for digital content are potential barriers to accessing Europes incredibly rich cultural assets. However EMIIs Distributed Content Framework (DCF) is a step towards lowering these barriers.

The EMII-DCF project was developed with funding from the IST programme by the European Museums Information Institute (EMII). A collaborative, virtual network EMII connects key cultural institutions in the European Union. Its main objective is the promotion of and exchange of best practice and the effective use of standards in information management among EU Member States and associated countries.

The project led by the UK’s mda (Museum Documentation Association) worked with eight pan-European partners within EMII. The aim was to identify the needs of those who use digital content, and to clarify the requirements concerning intellectual property rights (IPR) and common technical standards. The guidelines that resulted will ultimately sustain interoperability and the preservation of digital cultural resources.

Many cultural institutions in Europe are small and run on tight budgets. They do not necessarily have the staff with the necessary knowledge of IPR and need a framework that they can use when licensing or assigning the rights to other organisations. And, often, the array of technical issues associated with digitisation requires clear explanation of the issues especially with regard to standards.

Gordon McKenna of mda and EMII-DCF brings this to life: "Imagine a university academic is working on a piece of advanced research on merchant ships in the 18th and 19th centuries. A few years ago he would have needed to travel around Europe at great cost to study the artefacts required to complete the research. Today he can have many of the plans, drawings and associated documentation delivered to his desk. The issues he faces now are that museums are reluctant to let him have digital copies of the relevant material because they are concerned that in doing so they will lose control of them, or that when he does receive them he will need special software to access them. The EMII-DCF provides advice and guidance on both of these issues."

Help with IPR

IPR have become complex in recent years. Technological change has meant that it is now very easy and usually very cheap to make copies. Digital material in particular can be copied and manipulated at virtually no cost. To accommodate these changes the law on intellectual property has been adapted and modified resulting in a more complicated situation.

EMII-DCF advises three steps: First - audit the cultural assets to determine who owns the intellectual property. Secondly negotiate with rights holders to obtain permission to use the assets these are set out in licences (the EMII-DCF website provides templates) that specify things like the nature and scope of the content, usage, geographical scope, duration, and where appropriate, a fee. Thirdly - manage and protect the rights, which involves documenting the above information, and updating it where and when necessary.

To protect IPR, the DCF advises that it may be sufficient to display statements about terms of use. For more valuable digital assets the DCF advises the use of low-resolution images, digital encryption, digital watermarking, password protection and Web-casting.

Standards for digital content

According to McKenna, the DCF has made considerable steps in guiding content holders through the maze of standards and sets out a model that, if it is followed by cultural institutions throughout Europe, will ensure that digital resources are easily accessible by everyone. The DCF contains comprehensive information for users on technical and cultural standards as well as standards for the management of digital resources.

The technical standards cover the encoding of characters and text as well as still and moving images. The DCF also studied the standards governing the interchange of digital resources between applications. These determine the degree of interoperability and according to the project team are likely to become more and more important as the volume of digital material increases.

As for cultural standards, there are differences in how and the extent to which artefacts are described, and these too are clarified in the framework. Finally there are standards that should be followed when managing digital resources and more specifically when preserving them and ensuring that they will continue to be useable despite technological changes.

Ultimately the benefits of the DCF include streamlined and more accessible processes for producing and exploiting cultural content. Indeed the DCF technical standards are being used as the basis for other work [in the cultural heritage sector] across the EU, says McKenna. For example, MINERVA, another IST project, providing collaboration between Member States’ Ministries has linked up with EMII-DCF to push forward this work.


Gordon McKenna
The Spectrum Building
The Michael Young Centre
Purbeck Road
Cambridge CB2 2PD
United Kingdom
Tel: +44-1223-415760
Fax: +44-1223-415960
Source: Based on information from EMII-DCF

Gordon McKenna | CORDIS Wire
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