Belgian Newspapers

You see a computer monitor, in portrait orientation, showing the front page of a newspaper (displayed as a PDF inside Internet Explorer): ‘Le drapeau rouge’, the Belgian daily communist newspaper. Headline: ‘Molotov propose la réduction générale des armements’.

This computer is situated in Belgium’s Royal Library. It offers you access to an internal network of 300.000 pages of Belgian periodicals, produced between 1831 an 1945. It has no access to internet, no usb ports, and no connection to a printer.

If the library allows any digital distribution of the materials outside of the library walls they risk claims of copyright holders.

During Public Domain Day (NL) Librarian Marc D'Hoore explains: determining the authorship of a newspaper is difficult. Much of the work is anonymous or pseudononymous. There are not always clear contracts between the publishers and the authors. You do not know who owns the copyright, and you do not know when it will pass into the public domain.

Because of its mission of preservation, the Library needed to scan these materials—the paper is of extremely poor quality and disintegrating. But the Library also has a mission to facilitate access to its materials in any way it can.

Digitalisation seems to offer a great potential to make the material from the collections more accessible. Once scanned, material can be indexed, and put online, and be available to everyone with an internet connection. In potential. In reality, the Royal Library can not do this, because it would open itself to all kinds of claims of damages by copyright holders.


If you buy a book or a newspaper, you don’t buy the rights to the contents: you buy a license to read it, in this specific form. Redistribution in another format needs to be re-negotiated.  So all the twentieth century material that’s being scanned now by libraries—it’s not clear how this can be made accessible.

The public domain day highlighted work of authors that have recently fallen into the public domain. Copyright is death + 70 years, which means that the work of those who died in 1942 becomes public domain the 1st of january 2013. 

On the 1st January 2013 we warmly welcome the works of a.o. the Brussels author Neel Doff, the feminists Germaine Dulac, Violet Hunt and Tina Modotti, the Japanese poet Akiko Yosano, the sf-writers Ernest Bramah, Alexander Beliaev and Nictzin Dyalhis, the novelists Robert Musil, Roberto Arlt, Stefan Zweig and Bruno Schulz, the poets Olena Teliha and Jakob van Hoddis, the painter Walter Sickert and futurist poet Daniil Kharms...

Effictively, we are in the middle of the Second World War right now . In 1942, Bruno Schulz has been shot in Drohobycz Ghetto. Alexander Belyayev has died of starvation in a nazi occupied Soviet town. Olena Teliha is executed by the Gestapo in Kiev. Jakob van Hoddis has been deported to Sobibor along with the rest of the patients (and staff) of the sanotorium for the mentally ill where he resides. Daniil Kharms has been imprisoned in a psychiatric ward in Leningrad by the Soviet regime, and dies of starvation after the nazi blockade of the city. 

At the event in the Library, they mainly highlight the author Neel Doff, which at first I think I’ve never heard of—and then I realise her work provided the basis for the iconic Dutch 1970ies movie Keetje Tippel, by Paul Verhoeven.

Femke Snelting and An Mertens of Constant VZW provide a generative novel based on the work of James Joyce and Virginia Woolf, among others. 

Keetje Tippel, the movie, will still stay under copyright for the rest of my lifetime. But I would love the show you the one crucial scene in which Paul Verhoeven brilliantly catches the essence Dutch 70ies cinema and his own visual language…

Joyce & Woolf already fell into the public domain in 2011. The 2011 batch seems to have a bit more famous names still than the current one…

In the meantime the volunteers of Gutenberg have had the time to prepare a digital edition of Ulysses. More accessible than ever, so it’s more easy than ever to not finish it :)


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