Sunday 3 May 2015

It's clearly time for coalitions and comment - as copyright reform looms on both sides of the Atlantic

Along with the U.S., Japan, Canada and Australia (amongst many others), the European Union is currently looking to reform its copyright laws and in January 2014 launched a public consultation. And there is MUCH to ralk about and many stakeholders want to have their say. 

In the USA, Torrentfreak recently exposed what they say is the MPAA's true position on "fair use" which was that it was "extremely controversial," and the MPAA didn't want it included in various trade agreements such as the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement. Fair use in the USA - but not elsewhere then. Now fair use fans in the U.S. have formed a new coalition, Re:Create, to advocate for "balanced" copyright laws, which means ones that do not "encroach" on creativity and speech by being overly protective of those copyrights. Coalition members include the Consumer Electronics Association, the Computer & Communications Industry Association and the American Library Association and other members of the group include the Association of Research Libraries, Center for Democracy & Technology, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Media Democracy Fund, New America’s Open Technology Institute, Public Knowledge, and the R Street Institute. Sherwin Siy, VP of legal affairs at Public Knowledge said 
"We and the other members of the Re:Create coalition want to make sure that our laws account for these realities of today’s connected environment, and help bring a pre-VCR regime into a post-Meerkat world." The EFF said "After decades of increasingly draconian statutes and judicial decisions, our copyright system has veered far away from its original purpose. To help get copyright back on track, EFF is joining forces with a variety of groups—including libraries, industry associations, and public interest advocates—to launch a new coalition focused on promoting smart, balanced copyright policy: Re:create" adding "Restoring a sense of balance, fairness, and rationality to the copyright system has never been more urgent. Copyright is supposed to promote creativity, but too often we’ve seen it used to shut down innovation, new creative expression, and even everyday activities like tinkering with your car. When a farmer needs to ask the Librarian of Congress for permission to fix her tractor, it’s not just the tractor that’s broken."

Recently the U.S. Register of Copyrights, Maria A. Pallante, said: “Few would dispute that music is culturally essential and economically important to the world we live in, but the reality is that both music creators and the innovators who support them are increasingly doing business in legal quicksand. As this report makes clear, this state of affairs neither furthers the copyright law nor befits a nation as creative as the United States.” Pallante also said that it was "indefensible" and "bad policy" that US did not have public performance right for sound recordings. She labelled the recently introduced Fair Play, Fair Pay Act, which calls for a performance right for recordings, "an excellent legislative framework." She also backed the Songwriters' Equity Act which aims at introducing new mechanisms to fix royalty rates for songwriters and publishers. She also touched upon the need for changes in the structure of the Copyright Office to meet with the new challenges. saying "A faster and more nimble Copyright Office is a priority".

And in the EU, Internal Market and Services Commissioner Michel Barnier said his vision of copyright was of a modern and effective tool that supported creation and innovation, enables access to quality content, including across borders, encourages investment and strengthens cultural diversity saying “Our EU copyright policy must keep up with the times”. With many (the CopyKat included) starting to question whether US and European 'safe harbour' (or 'safe harbor' if you prefer) provisions are 'fit for purpose' after the passing of more than a decade, and with increasing focus on the role of content licensing - reform is clearly on the cards - at the moment much of which is driven by legislators and content owners. PRS for Music's CEO, Robert Ashcroft, recently named current ‘safe harbour’ hosting provisions within EU copyright legislation as the music industry’s ‘elephant in the room’, saying the provisions were damaging creators and the wider cultural industries, and needed to be addressed. The EU Commission has its own Digital Single Market Strategy, which includes plans to reform EU copyright. A draft version of this document has already been leaked and it would appear that areas for legislative intervention in the area of copyright are likely to encompass geo-blocking, exceptions and limitations, civil enforcement, and the role of internet service providers.  Pirate Party MEP Juliet Reda is also currently looking at copyright reform in her draft report on the adaptation of the Copyright Directive, including some challenging (and challenged!) views on copyright exceptions and term if copyrights as well as criticising geo-blocking in Europe - itself a view later criticised by a group of 20 leading film makers who said Reda’s proposals could seriously damage film production, and that the EU should focus on battling piracy. More arguing here!

Now Amazon, Google and a host of US trade bodies representing digital firms, broadcasters and other licensees of music have launched a new organisation - yes, another coalition (just like London buses, you wait for one for ages, then two come along at the same time) -  calling itself the MIC Coalition, calling itself "a coalition of companies, associations, consumer groups, venue owners and artist advocates". In its mission statement, the MIC Coalition says it is "committed to a rational, sustainable and transparent system that will drive the future of music and ensure that consumers and consumer-serving businesses, such as retailers, restaurants and hotels, have continued access to play music at affordable prices" and "This is a critical period for the future of music and the policies that govern it. Issues are being considered that will significantly impact how and where music is played and what users and consumers pay for it" and says that “for [the] music ecosystem to continue to grow and thrive, we must create a predictable, balanced and transparent music marketplace.”

In Australia, film, music and television producers have told a Senate inquiry they've been battling a decades long assault on their intellectual property. The copyright owners say that's why they're backing proposed legislation which will allow them to ask a court to block websites that are using pirated content. the copyright creators and owners have put on a united front to legislators in Sydney in their campaign against illegal downloaders. Brett Cottle from the Australasian Performing Right Association says musicians and artists have been bled dry by pirates.

Equally recently, and in a bid for what were argued to be fair copyright laws that might benefit citizens and researchers across Europe, organisations including the Wellcome Trust, the National Library of Scotland, the National Library of Wales, the Open Rights Group and indeed the Chartered Institute of Library & Information Professionals called for reforms. Their London Manifesto calls for fair copyright for libraries and archives across Europe. The Manifesto outlines suggested reforms that the supporters say would better support research, innovation and growth and might help create a digital single market. 

And finally, speaking at the United Nations on behalf of CISAC, composer-songwriter Eddie Schwartz, Co-Chair of Music Creators North America and President of the Songwriters Association of Canada, said that songwriters, composers and lyricists have seen the value of their works diminish over the past decade and their remuneration erode due to market imbalances. Sharing some personal experience, Schwartz added: “In the physical world of the 20th century, a million sales would have enabled someone like me, with a series of hits, to live with a comfortable middle class income. Today, in the digital era of the 21st century, one million streams earn me 35$, the price of a pizza."  Schwartz said that one way to address this issue was to develop Fair Trade Music schemes, in reference to the movement launched last year by a global coalition of creators. "Fair Trade Music is about fairness in the way creators are remunerated in the digital world," explained Schwartz. "We must adopt an ethical, equitable and sustainable system in order to develop this new value chain so that the works of those who devote their lives to creating are not valued near zero." CISAC have also criticised Julia Reda's report in an open letter saying "We agree that there needs to be a balance achieved between rights holders and the public. But this balance should not be struck at the expense of the increasingly fragile community of creators".

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