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)