Tuesday, 23 November 2021
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, for coming to the House. I hope he will share the details of this discussion with the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Catherine Martin. I would have appreciated the Minister's presence here today, but I know she will be at the Oireachtas committee meeting on Wednesday. I thank the Minister for State for his time.
We are losing web records at an alarming rate. Some 60% of the national libraries across Europe have in place adequate copyright law to allow them to collect appropriately the contents of state domain websites, which in our case is the .ie domain. The relevant legislation here is the Copyright and Other Intellectual Property Law Provisions Act 2019. I have been covering this issue for many years. I met representatives of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment when that Bill came before these Houses. The Seanad passed an amendment to that Bill that I brought forward, but it was later removed by the then Minister, John Halligan.
Section 108 of the Act stipulates that, within 12 months of enactment, the Government shall bring forward a report on the feasibility of establishing a digital web archive or digital legal deposit. Twelve months have well and truly passed. In fact, the President signed the Act into law on 26 June 2019. As it stands, the National Library of Ireland is anxious that we are losing web records at an alarming rate. I am anxious the Government is breaking the law because it has not brought forward that report. The National Library of Ireland is concerned, and understandably so, that by not copying websites with the .ie domain, it is in breach of current copyright law. The library's representatives recently told the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media that for each year they are unable to collect or disseminate the contents of the .ie domain websites, approximately 50% of web records are lost.
As I have said before, a black hole will be created in our country's memory if we continue to fail to put in place a digital legal deposit. The hold-up seems to be in the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, which I understand was given the responsibility for producing a report on the feasibility of establishing the scheme. What is the Minister's view of what the scheme should look like? When will the report be brought to Cabinet? As I mentioned, the Government is now breaking the law on this issue. We are facing excessive loss of online material for the current and future generations. It seems there is no urgency from Ministers to take ownership of the issue and to set up a digital legal deposit scheme.
I thank the Senator for raising this matter. I apologise on behalf of the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Catherine Martin, who is unavailable this morning to take this Commencement matter.
Legal deposit legislation is an important instrument in national cultural policy. In Ireland, as in most countries, it is relied upon to ensure the published output of the nation is collected and preserved by one or more prescribed institutions in order that citizens and researchers, within the country and abroad, are guaranteed permanent access to the intellectual and cultural memory of the nation. Some countries have amended legal deposit legislation to incorporate the deposit of their published digital output, for example, websites and electronic publications. This is digital legal deposit, and it exists to various extents in the UK and some EU countries, including France, Germany, Spain, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.
Section 29 of the Copyright and Other Intellectual Property Law Provisions Act 2019 introduced a provision for copyright libraries to request a publisher to deposit a copy of a digital publication first published in the State. This introduced digital legal deposit in Ireland. Further consideration is being afforded to a wider initiative that would capture the web, particularly the .ie domain. At present, the National Library of Ireland, NLI, collects a wide range of websites and stores them permanently. All the websites collected by it are collected with the consent of the owners.
Section 108 of the 2019 Act provided that the Government would bring forward a report on the feasibility of establishing a digital legal deposit scheme to serve as a web archive for the .ie domain contents and advise of the steps taken towards that goal. Within a year of publication, 50% of web resources are gone or are unrecognisable, but the work of the NLI means Government publications and online websites documenting most aspects of public life in the 21st century will not be lost to future researchers.
Since 2011, the NLI has been selectively archiving the web, moving towards the creation of an archive of Irish websites. There are several practical and administrative limitations to that process, but perhaps the greatest concern is the fact that it does not provide for a complete record of Irish-content websites. The library has a statutory mandate to collect for the benefit of the public. It can also meet the resource requirements to gather and preserve the information. Legislation could be introduced to give the library the right to conduct a full domain trawl of all .ie websites of Irish interest periodically. To capture a complete record of Irish websites, the domain trawl would include the collection of content behind paywalls. The intention would be that the NLI would make the content available on its premises, as with other resources. This is not a simple issue. However, the owners of websites whose content lies behind a paywall have rights as publishers in general and are important stakeholders in that context. The agreement of relevant publishers would be appropriate and desirable in respect of any legislation.
On progress, the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media is working with the NLI on exploring the feasibility of expanding the library's capacity to establish a digital legal deposit scheme to serve as a web archive for the .ie domain. Work is ongoing in this regard. There are differing views on the introduction of a digital legal deposit, and it is important that consultation incorporate all those views. It is hoped to bring forward a report in the coming months.
I thank the Minister of State for the response from the Department. I have not learned anything new. On his reference to the Act introducing a provision allowing copyright libraries to request a publisher to deposit a copy of a digital publication, the scheme is not really a scheme at all. We are aware that the NLI is understaffed by comparison with its equivalent national libraries and, therefore, actively requesting it to make copies of records is hardly realistic.It is extraordinary that the Government accepts that we are losing material but has not produced a report that it is legally required to produce. I hope to see the report in the coming months, as per the response to parliamentary questions for a number of months. I hope to see the report before the end of the year. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, for coming to the House.
I thank Senator Warfield for his remarks and I absolutely understand his frustration in this context. I am working with what the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, has provided to me. This is not my area of responsibility, but I will revert to the Minister and express the Senator's concern about the response he is getting. My scripted reply is very clear that the report is due but, as the Senator said, the replies to his questions have said it will be a number of months. I will raise the concern the Senator has expressed and his view that valuable material is being lost. That is critical to our State, so I undertake that I will raise that with the Minister, Deputy Martin.