The European Union is to forge ahead with a change to copyright law that will enable organisations to digitise and publish "orphaned" works. The aim of the directive is to overcome the bar to use of copyrighted works in which the copyright holder cannot be easily traced, restricting their re-publication and distribution.
The EU Council of Ministers justified their approval by saying that it would enable the digitisation of a treasure trove of collections currently held in libraries, educational bodies, museums and other institutions, enabling them to make the works available to the wider public.
"The new rules will facilitate the digitisation of, and lawful cross-border online access to, orphan works contained in the collections of libraries, educational establishments, museums, archives, audio-visual heritage institutions and public service broadcasting organisations," said the Council of Ministers in a statement.
It added: "These beneficiary institutions will be able to use orphan works when fulfilling their public interest missions without the risk of infringing copyright."
However, critics have suggested that it will also enable major media companies to re-publish and profit from such orphaned copyrighted works, while paying just a nominal sum to a rights body to cover themselves legally.
Neelie Kroes, the EU's Digital Agenda Commissioner - who is said to have been instrumental in pushing the directive through - was nevertheless disappointed with the result and reportedly wanted a more radical approach to digital copyright in the EU.
The Directive had been passed earlier in September by the European Parliament with a vote of 531 in favour and just 65 against.