1709 Blog: for all the copyright community

Friday, 10 July 2009

Digital Europe: the next 5 years

Yesterday Viviane Reding (right), EU Commissioner for Telecoms and Media, gave the Ludwig Erhard Lecture 2009 in Brussels. She reviewed short-term and medium-term actions for boosting Digital Europe. She called on both sides of the debate on Amendment 138 to come to a ‘very swift agreement’ and expressed considerable frustration with the workings of the ‘Brussels bubble’.

The first, and most important, of her four Digital Priorities for the next five years was (abridged):

To make it easier and more attractive to access digital content, wherever produced in Europe. It is therefore regrettable that we currently have an extremely polarised debate on the matter: While many right holders insist that every unauthorised download from the internet is a violation of intellectual property rights and therefore illegal or even criminal, others stress that access to the internet is a crucial fundamental right. Let me be clear on this: Both sides are right. The drama is that after long and often fruitless battles, both camps have now dug themselves in their positions, without any signs of opening from either side.

In the meantime, internet piracy appears to become more and more ‘sexy’, in particular for the digital natives already, the young generation of intense internet users between 16 and 24. It is necessary to penalise those who are breaking the law. But are there really enough attractive and consumer-friendly legal offers on the market? Does our present legal system for Intellectual Property Rights really live up to the expectations of the internet generation? Have we considered all alternative options to repression? Have we really looked at the issue through the eyes of a 16-year-old? Or only from the perspective of law professors who grew up in the Gutenberg Age? In my view, growing internet piracy is a vote of no-confidence in existing business models and legal solutions. It should be a wake-up call for policy-makers.

It will therefore be my key priority to work, in cooperation with other Commissioners, on a simple, consumer-friendly legal framework for accessing digital content in Europe’s single market, while ensuring at the same time fair remuneration of creators.

I will give you two examples of what Europe could do concretely for this:

First of all, we could facilitate the licensing of intellectual property rights for online services covering the territory of all 27 EU Member States. Today, right holders and online service providers need to spend far too much time and money on the administration of rights, instead of investing this money in attractive services. And consumers often cannot access online content if uploaded in another Member State. For online content in a single market of 27 Member States, economies of scale and consumer-friendly solutions will require a much simpler and less fragmented regulatory framework than the one of today. We had a similar problem when commercial satellite TV started more than 30 years ago. As right clearance for this per se cross-border service became increasingly complex, Europe developed the Cable and Satellite Directive and introduced a simplified system of rights clearance for the whole of Europe. I believe it is now time to develop similar solutions for the evolving world of online content.

Second example: We should create a modern set of European rules that encourage the digitisation of books. More than 90% of books in Europe’s national libraries are no longer commercially available, because they are either out of print or orphan works (which means that nobody can be identified to give permission to use the work digitally). The creation of a Europe-wide public registry for such works could stimulate private investment in digitisation, while ensuring that authors get fair remuneration also in the digital world. This would also help to end the present, rather ideological debate about ‘Google books’. I do understand the fears of many publishers and libraries facing the market power of Google. But I also share the frustrations of many internet companies which would like to offer interesting business models in this field, but cannot do so because of the fragmented regulatory system in Europe. I am experiencing myself such frustrations in the context of the development of Europeana, Europe’s digital library. Let us be very clear: if we do not reform our European copyright rules on orphan works and libraries swiftly, digitisation and the development of attractive content offers will not take place in Europe, but on the other side of the Atlantic. Only a modern set of consumer-friendly rules will enable Europe’s content to play a strong part in the digitisation efforts that has already started all around the globe.

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