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Kroes wants copyright as a building block, not a stumbling block

Kroes wants copyright as a building block, not a stumbling block

During the Avignon Forum for the international meetings of culture, economy and media that took place on 5 November 2010, Neelie Kroes, European Commission Vice-President for the Digital Agenda, expressed her very strong conviction that copyright regulations had to change.

The Commissioner believes the existing copyright rules are not adapted to the development brought by the Internet and that any big technological revolution brings forth the necessity for adaptation. In her opinion, the intermediaries between the artists and the public are those that must understand the change and adapt. The “content industry has failed to capitalise on the changing market.” The present copyright laws have become a burden. “Despite the fact that thanks to the Internet the world has gotten smaller than ever before, making it extremely easy for artists to get their creations to as many people as possible, copyright law and the content industry stand in their way.”

Kroes drew the attention that culture intermediaries might not be spared by the “Internet revolution, which is unveiling the unsustainable position of certain content gatekeepers and intermediaries. No historically entrenched position guarantees the survival of any cultural intermediary. Like it or not, content gatekeepers risk being sidelined if they do not adapt to the needs of both creators and consumers of cultural goods.”

In other words, change or face the consequences! “I believe that those who will prosper in the digital age are those who understand that convergence is one of the keys,” because “convergence means creative freedom and more inspirational content ready to meet the expectations of a public that evolves with art and content.”

The Commissioner believes the development of the Internet will not kill other type of media just as “cinema did not kill theatre, nor did television kill radio.” She used as argument the statistics that show that actually the Internet increases the interest in art and creation. “…people who spend more time on the Internet tend to read more, and to go to cinema and to concerts more often than the population as a whole. Studies show that nowadays, people increasingly watch TV and browse the Internet at the same time – simply to get more information about something that intrigued them.”

Kroes expressed her goal of promoting cultural diversity and content adapted to the digital age and her hope that “Europe is and must remain a global cultural force.” She reminded the fact that copyright was not an end in itself and that although it had been useful for 200 years to artists and the creative industries, it was nowadays outdated. “We must ensure that copyright serves as a building block, not a stumbling block.”

And she gave the example of Europeana project, the online portal of libraries, museums and archives in Europe which is endangered by copyright. “…when it comes to 20th century materials, even to digitise and publish orphan works and out-of-distribution works, we have a large problem indeed. Europeana could be condemned to be a niche player rather than a world leader if it cannot be granted licenses and share the full catalogue of written and audio-visual material held in our cultural institutions.”

The Commissioner criticised the fragmented copyright system which is not adapted to the reality of today and which has reached a point where it gives a more important role to intermediaries than to artists. “It irritates the public who often cannot access what artists want to offer and leaves a vacuum which is served by illegal content, depriving the artists of their well deserved remuneration. And copyright enforcement is often entangled in sensitive questions about privacy, data protection or even net neutrality.”

As Kroes thinks an immediate debate on the topic is necessary, she announced that the Commission would soon make some legislative proposals after examining the issue of divergent national private copy levies and multi-territorial and pan-European licensing.

The Commissioner made an appeal to go back to sense rather than having “a dysfunctional system based on a series of cultural Berlin walls,” and to create a “system where there is scope to create new opportunities for artists and creators, and new business models that better fit the digital age.”

For the time being, we face situations like that of a young man accused, in a P2P case in US, of illegally downloading and distributing 24 tunes on the net, who was found in breach of copyright and fined with 1,1 million Euro (about 46 000 Euro/song).

A similar case in Germany brought about a 15 Euro fine/song. Although the cases are not identical in their details, they illustrate the very different approaches to copyright infringement in different jurisdictions.

Press release – Speech of Neelie Kroes European Commission Vice-President for the Digital Agenda A digital world of opportunities at Avignon Forum (5.11.2010)

Kroes: EU copyright rules need major overhaul (5.11.2010)

$42 German P2P fine stark contrast to seven-figure US judgments (5.11.2010)

EDRI-gram: EDRi and partners launch Copyright for Creativity declaration (5.05.2010)

{ 6 comments… add one }
  • Crosbie Fitch November 18, 2010, 3:33 am

    “We must ensure that copyright serves as a building block, not a stumbling block.”

    The ‘stumbling block’ is the insane refrain that “We must ensure that copyright serves as a building block.”

    I suggest that instead of “We must keep an 18th century privilege, that suspends from the individual’s liberty their right to make copies, as our foundation, that we don’t continually fail to contrive a foolproof means of preventing people doing what is naturally essential to them” we adopt “We must rediscover natural law as the true foundation, one upon which we recognise copyright to be alien and anathema, a derogation of the individual’s natural rights, an instrument of injustice, an abomination to be abolished”.

    • Slim934 November 18, 2010, 7:48 am

      I’m all for abolishing the system entirely.

      But seriously, we have a high level IP official essentially stating that IP laws are socially destructive as they currently are. This is not something to be atleast a wee bit happy about? She is reinforcing one of our essential points: copyright is only acting as a privilege to the middle men.

      • Crosbie Fitch November 18, 2010, 8:26 am

        How can you be happy about any argument that posits copyright as a building block, that some other mysterious and secondary legislation/regulation must be the stumbling block?

        How can you have cultural liberty based upon a law that prohibits it?

        The rot is in this doublethink, and the corruption of ever more draconian enforcement will not stop until the priesthood sacrifice their white elephant instead of worshipping it whilst exhorting its keepers to be more scrupulous in clearing away its dung and trampled victims.

        It is not a happy day when a priestess observes the white elephant to be destructive if this is simply grounds to erect electrified razor wire to dissuade kids from entering the elephant’s compound.

        I suspect an Internet levy is far more likely to be what she has in mind by way of ‘solution’ than a free market (copyright abolition). We could call it ‘Theme-parking mankind’s culture and liberty at the pleasure of his corporate masters”.

        • Slim934 November 18, 2010, 12:46 pm

          Well, given that the line until now has been “copyright can do no wrong” I think it is a positive worth being happy about when the system’s own high-level bureaucrats must concede under the evidence that their little fiefs are a lot more destructive than they claim they are.

          Again, the whole system should go. It is totally worthless both from a rights and utilitarian standpoint. There is no denying this. But it seems rather absurd to me to not bask in at least the admittedly SMALL amount of victory we have gained from obviously turning the IP debate 180 degrees.

          • Crosbie Fitch November 18, 2010, 1:13 pm

            A cotton farmer admitting that some of his slaves have a lice problem and a medicinal remedy might result in greater productivity is not turning the slavery debate 180 degrees.

            Cataloguing some difficulties caused by copyright should not be mistaken for criticising copyright itself. It’s simply the tactic of adopting the case against to reframe it as the case for keeping and improving.

            When high-level bureaucrats stop prefixing their prose with ‘We must ensure that copyright serves as a building block’ or ‘Protection of Intellectual Property Rights is vital to our nation’s prosperity’ then one might note a change of key in the same old song. Until then, your hope is letting your ears deceive you.

            We are to witness a collision between the unstoppable and the immovable, and the mindless corporations in charge of the former are still adding additional rocket boosters, e.g. COICA.

            Don’t forget, mankind has had wars over petty quibbles concerning details of the supernatural – and still is. An unnatural law such as copyright is ample grounds. Let’s just hope it doesn’t go on for too many years…

To the extent possible under law, Stephan Kinsella has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to C4SIF. This work is published from: United States. In the event the CC0 license is unenforceable a  Creative Commons License Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License is hereby granted.