International Copyright Conference ‘A Century of Dutch Copyright Law’

Brief address by State Secretary for Security and Justice Fred Teeven at the presentation of A century of Dutch Copyright Law. Auteurswet 1912 – 2012, at the International Copyright Conference ‘A Century of Dutch Copyright Law’ in Amsterdam on Friday 31 August 2012.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for inviting me to accept the first copy of the book A century of Dutch Copyright Law. Auteurswet 1912 – 2012. This book celebrates a century of Dutch copyright law. Four years ago it was decided to drop the date, 1912, from the title of the Copyright Act. Even though the date is gone, it is a pleasure to mark this milestone. I am pleased and honoured that this Act enjoys so much interest here in the Netherlands and abroad. We almost didn’t make it to the centenary. At time there was strong pressure to repeal the Act and incorporate it into the Civil Code. Fortunately, that didn’t happen and now we can celebrate this special anniversary.

One hundred years is a real achievement. But the Copyright Act was not left on a shelf, collecting dust, all that time. It has been amended many times. For one thing, the number of sections more than doubled, from 53 in 1912 to 130 in 2012. 

Of course, it has also been modernised. You can see how society has changed over the past hundred years from what has been taken out. For example, the provision on married women. This prevented a husband from doing anything with his wife’s copyright without her permission. And the provision giving the Act binding effect in the Dutch East Indies. But there are still some provisions that show the Act’s age. For example, section 48 refers to an act passed almost two centuries ago, which regulated an earlier form of copyright. The old-fashioned spelling that pops up here and there is another clue to its age.

The Copyright Act may be old, but it’s not obsolete. Provisions have been added over the years, mostly in the past twenty years. Mainly because of new European law. The most far-reaching changes in the Copyright Act come from implementing the Directive on Copyright and Related Rights in the Information Society from 2001. This was an opportunity to adapt the Copyright Act to the new digital environment. 

But we aren’t finished. Like all legislation, the Copyright Act is a work in progress. In 1932 De Beaufort wrote in his standard work on copyright that advances in technology that aid the publication and reproduction of works of art and literature had always played an important role in the development of copyright, and this would probably continue in the future. At any rate, there is no reason to believe that the age of important innovations in this area is over.

De Beaufort was right. The innovations he was referring to were the camera, the gramophone, moving pictures and radio. In our day, the internet and other digital applications keep us busy. From the printing press to the internet: people always find new ways to exploit new technologies. Fortunately, technology-neutral terms like publication and reproduction are used in the Copyright Act. This has allowed the core of the Act to remain intact, while society has changed completely since 1912. 

Despite its technology-neutral language, it is necessary to keep updating the law. With each advance in technology, we need to make sure the Copyright Act still covers all the bases. With the rapid rise of the digital world, the call to adapt the Copyright Act keeps growing louder. Obviously, we must protect authors’ rights. So the Copyright Act will always be important. 

In my letter to Parliament of April 2011, I outlined four key objectives for copyright law aimed at:

1. increasing confidence in copyright law and collecting societies;

2. improving the contractual position of authors and performing artists;

3. improving and protecting new internet-based business models; and

4. supporting European plans to facilitate the digitalisation of cultural heritage and multi-territory licensing. 

Since then, the necessary steps have been taken. For objective 1, the House of Representatives has passed an oversight bill. It will now go to the Senate for consideration. For objective 2, a bill on copyright contract law has gone to the House and I look forward to hearing what they think of it. For objective 4, agreement has been reached in Brussels on the Orphan Works Directive. The European Commission has also published a draft Directive on the collective management of copyright and related rights. We will see what happens with objective 3 after the upcoming elections. I truly hope that the next government will continue working towards these objectives. And I want to make a contribution.

In closing, I would like to thank you for this special book. I look forward to reading it.