1/3 – Public-Private Partnership with Europeana


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You are interested in the possibility of partnership with Europeana, and wish to find out more about:

  • What Europeana is and does;
  • Why it may be of value to the commercial sector;
  • Any relevant legal questions;
  • Technical services available to support collaboration.

This brief overview gives answers those questions, with links to more detailed information, drawing on the work of EDItEUR in the Linked Heritage project, 2011-2013.

  • Anyone considering commercial partnerships with the cultural sector more generally may also find useful ideas here.

Europeana and the Europeana Network

Europeana is the European Commission’s flagship digital cultural heritage portal. It can be found at:

It is a central discovery and access point for European historical, social, cultural and artistic materials that have been made available online in digital form by (mainly) public institutions, such as

  • Museums
  • Art galleries
  • Libraries
  • State archives
  • Audio-visual (film) archives
  • Sound archives (music & other recorded sound)
  • Photo libraries and agencies

These organisations host physical cultural objects, and may digitise them to make them more widely accessible. They also host newer, born-digital cultural items. They then contribute metadata describing their digital collection (not the materials themselves) to Europeana, along with small thumbnail preview images. Some other types of preview can be supported, such as sound clips.

Contributors can optionally join the voluntary Europeana Network of metadata providers and heritage / information technology experts.

Freely accessible to the public, and entirely publically-funded, Europeana itself primarily aims to offer

  • Aggregation of metadata about digitised cultural content (again, not the content itself)
  • Facilitation of mass digitisation and expertise-sharing projects in the heritage sector
  • Distribution of the metadata about existing content (but only the metadata)
  • Engagement with European digital culture in new ways developed by Europeana Foundation’s projects and those of its network of contributors

More technical details about Europeana can be found at the Europeana Professional sub-site.

Some more commercial organisations have to date taken part in mass digitisation programmes, in partnership with public institutions.

This usually means providing:

  • initial investment and perhaps
  • technical services

…in return for:

  • access to the cultural items themselves,
  • temporary exclusivity over sales or licensing of the digital content produced,
  • or (more rarely) a quid-pro-quo of content enrichment.

Most commercial organisations that have digitised materials and shared metadata with Europeana to date have:

  • digitised public domain (out-of-copyright) content,
  • or shared metadata which is largely descriptive and typically lacks either
    • Richer previews of the content (e.g. cover images or extracts), or
    • Links to retail pages to buy some product, a commercial version of the digitised content.

A larger scale collaboration would aim to include

  • both out-of-copyright material and in-copyright culturally-relevant products, with
  • both richer preview content,
  • and links to (at least) one retail landing page per product

This would realise both

  • fuller cultural enrichment of the public database (for Europeana and its users),
  • and commercial sales potential (for the metadata provider).

and would form the basis of a mutually-beneficial partnership.

Benefits and costs of contributing to Europeana

Three fundamental conditions for a commercial partnership with Europeana are:

  1. Commercial incentives (financial or otherwise) for the data provider or their clients;
  2. Technical availability of data to keep costs to a minimum;
  3. Ownership of rights to redistribute data and preview images to Europeana without restriction of any type of reuse of the data.

Commercial incentives are most likely to exist where:

  • One company owns all relevant rights in products, metadata and preview images, and most importantly, controls all retail offerings (sales rights) for all products;
  • Organisations have a public mandate to promote heritage (e.g. a national library that also publishes new books);
  • There are data intermediaries able to reduce technical barriers, and costs, and which can aggregate large numbers of records from their clients (often smaller or heritage sector organisations);
  • Data aggregators might contribute larger numbers of records if product identifiers can be resolved to link an arbitrary number of retail offers ensuring fair competition.

These incentives are listed in order of increasing value to Europeana and online heritage.

They also represent increasing levels of public or private investment in management of data and development and maintenance of infrastructure to realise that value.

Any sustainable commercial contribution (i.e. beyond a one-off prototypes as achieved by Linked Heritage), will require Europeana to invest in enhancing its own commercial attractiveness:

  • Appropriate licenses for commercial data, to avoid conflicts with existing commercial data supply relationships
  • Data management support following commercial best practice;
  • Raising the commercial profile of the Europeana portal and data feeds e.g. through
    • enhancement of the core data model,
    • alternative API and linked data re-use licences, and
    • support for licensing heritage content such as images, full text, sound and video (i.e. leveraging Europeana's central position in the cultural heritage sector to simplify commercial access to digital cultural material held by the originating institutions). Easier licensing of digital cultural material is one of the key elements of value that Europeana could offer to commercial organisations, but at present Europeana offers only metadata describing that digital material.

Financial incentives and support may come from public funds or not-for-profits who need product data for:

  • Promotion of national heritage and culture,
  • International dissemination of literature and other arts in translation,
  • Enriching data with industry or trade body awards and events,
  • Promoting legitimate retail offerings (anti-piracy),
  • Extension of standards and identifier adoption across commerce and archival materials;
  • New databases of currently in-commerce products to benefit trade and culture.

Legal context of contributing metadata

One of Europeana's key roles is the collection and further redistribution of metadata. Contributors to Europeana, especially commercial organisations, should attend to the rights status of their that data, in three areas:


  • Marketing and supply chain data may often contain some texts protected by copyright, for example previews of the content of a product. These must be dilligently rights cleared, or removed.
  • A commonly expressed view is that individual “facts” in a dataset are not covered by copyright:
    • This may help to define a minimum set of information that may be offered publicly, and perhaps redistributed as structured data for automated reuse, but -
    • A minimum set will be less commercially relevant and of little cultural depth.

Database right

  • In Europe a sui generis database right applies to all collections of data;
  • This applies no matter if copyright protection applies to each item of data;
  • Hence the right to redistribute and make public without restriction must be checked.

Existing and future licenses (contracts)

  • Commercial data intermediaries possess significant assets in the above categories of intellectual property.
  • As well as being legally protected, they generate a return on the investment required to create and maintain those assets, through licensing their data and offering related services.
    • New data agreements - such as contributing data to Europeana - must be considered from a business development point of view for the extent to which they offer a return (financial or otherwise) on the investment required to maintain them.

These are all affected by the Europeana “Data Exchange Agreement” (DEA), which stipulates:

      • “All [textual] metadata provided to Europeana will be published by Europeana as open data under the terms of the Creative Commons Zero Public Domain Dedication (CC0).”1
      • “This [the CC0 redistribution] does not apply to the content (including previews)… The rights to the content made available via Europeana remain under the control of the data providers who make these objects available.”2

That is, any contributions of metadata from a commercial organisation to Europeana currently involve waiving all rights to the data (both copyright and database right). Of course, this does not affect the rights to the actual content of the products described by that metadata.

Issues from CC0 for commercial uses

For commercial data owners CC0 raises three main issues:

  • In many cases, this will mean that only a slim subset of the data, with an extremely limited:
    • quantity or selection of records, and
    • depth or richness of information
    can be transferred into the public domain, without undermining the commercial value of the data that made it possible to create and manage the data in the first place.
    • Of course, the lack of richness of the data also undermines the likely commercial value of any reuse.
  • Data contributors who do not own the appropriate rights in the data (perhaps because it contains third-party material), must in good faith clear these rights before applying CC0 – this could be expensive and time-intensive.
  • Even when all appropriate rights are cleared before application of the CC0 licence, the CC0 legal code
    • explicitly disclaims all guarantees of prior third-party rights clearance, and
    • offers no legal protection or guarantee to potential reusers of the data that third-party rights have been cleared.
    Commercial re-users of data redistributed by Europeana would clearly desire such provisions, as without them a diligent check for third-party inclusions is required.
  • Data licensed under CC0 offers no potential for even limited exclusivity to potential reusers, which might encourage more ambitious commercial exploitation of the material.

These problems could potentially be overcome with alternative licensing arrangements for commercial data contribution, and for redistribution and re-use of the Europeana data that includes commercially-contributed data.

Technical support for commercial partners

The Linked Heritage project ended in 2013, and the products of its research on public-private partnership are freely available.

They form a basis of technical expertise on which to build future data contribution collaborations between commercial organisations and Europeana and other heritage bodies:

  • The first diagram below summarises the key benefits offered by this approach, listing industry standards supported and core activities at each stage of data aggregation;
  • The second diagram shows the same workflows again from the technical perspective of data flows and access to content.

The Linked Heritage software and standards infrastructure is freely available for commercial or public sector use and further development and customisation.

Linked Heritage & Europeana Workflows - Michael Hopwood (EDItEUR) - December 2011

EDItEUR and its Linked Heritage Work Package 4 partners demonstrated an effective, standards-based approach to this problem:

  • D4.1 Best Practice Report (link below) introduces product data standards and best practice of the media industries for those heritage organisations learning about parallels in the commercial world, and for commercial organisations thinking of adopting these standards for the first time;
  • Semantic mappings of industry data formats to the LIDO heritage format in D4.2 below were produced in agreement with the relevant standards bodies and hence constitute “standard mappings” that can be used independently of the Linked Heritage project;
  • The LIDO format is a widely-used “hub” format for data aggregation, and provides a stable mid-point for data collection and enrichment before transforming to the Europeana schema (which has in the past and may in future change significantly), or to other schemas.
  • XML data ingestion and mapping to LIDO is supported by the open-source MINT software.

Linked Heritage & Europeana Workflows - Michael Hopwood (EDItEUR) - December 2011

Explore further – technical support

Linked Heritage D4.1 – Public-Private Partnership Best Practice Report (PDF)
The first part of EDItEUR's Linked Heritage work, describing the major identifier and metadata standards

Linked Heritage D4.2 – Specification of the technologies chosen (PDF)
The second part of EDItEUR's Linked Heritage work, specifying the mechanics of how typical commercial-sector metadata can be mapped into the LIDO metadata scheme used by Linked Heritage

Commercial and cultural sectors: potential for data collaboration? (PDF)
A conference paper presented by Graham Bell, describing similarities and differences between library and commercial book data models, existing commercial sector partnerships with the library world, and potential for future collaboration, especially in the field of Linked (Open?) Data and the Semantic Web