Tuesday 11 September 2012

Copyright is stuck in the '90s: Neelie Kroes calls for change

Yesterday Neelie Kroes, Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda gave a speech entitledCopyright and innovation in the Creative Industries addressing why, in a changing digital age, copyright reform is the right way to support the creative sector.  She began by saying that the debate on copyright often involves extreme positions, rigid views, and emotive arguments but that a pragmatic rather than philosophical approach is necessary.

The last major EU copyright instrument, the Copyright Directive (or the Information Society Directive), was adopted in 2001, but was based on Commission proposals dating back to 1998. Neelie Kroes reminds her audience of what has happened since then, saying that "In 1998, Mark Zuckerberg was 14. Today, almost one billion people around the world actively use Facebook, to share photos, videos, and ideas."

The thrust of her speech is that the world is changing rapidly. In 1998 the creative industries were controlled by large corporations whereas the internet has opened that space up to individuals who can publish their books, blogs, songs and art easily and globally.

Copyright does not just affect the creative industries (though those were the industries that is was created to protect), but has now spread to the business and pharmaceutical industries too. Neelie Kroes has talked in the past about her views on the use of data and text-mining, and yesterday she said that:

"Today, new scientific discoveries don't just come from new experiments, new drugs, new clinical trials: in fact, now, we can get new results by manipulating existing data. Data and text-mining techniques now lie behind a huge field of research, like human genome projects, potentially life-saving."

She goes on to say that pan-European companies should not have to struggle with 27 different sets of legislation, hinting that further harmonisation is required, and that the focus must be our economy, which cannot miss out on the opportunity for new growth.

The Commission has begun reviewing whether changes to EU legislation are necessary. Neelie Kroes has said that "For this, Michel Barnier is looking at whether and how the 2001 Copyright Directive needs to be adapted. I fully back his commitment to do that, set out in the Commission's IPR Strategy of last year."

The public seems divided on whether the gatekeepers to the creative industries are unjustifiably being trampled on or whether they are a near-obsolete concept. Whichever side of the line you fall on, it is hard to fault Neelie Kroe's view that:

"During this process of assessment we should leave passion aside and take a pragmatic view. Is our current system consistent and relevant within the real world?"

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