Last week’s vote on ACTA – although hardly a surprise for those who’ve been following – was a reminder about the big debate currently going on, about how to balance intellectual property rights with Internet freedoms
For me it’s about making it easier for artists to promote their work widely, and make a living from it: without constraining the immense innovation of the online world. And, for me, the current copyright system achieves all of those objectives poorly.
That’s why I’m convinced we need to reform copyright for the digital age. For me, merely making enforcement more and more heavy-handed is not the solution – especially if it results in draconian measures like cutting off internet access.
But a good start – and I hope a principle on which everybody could agree – is that we should make it easier to legally access the content you love.
Currently that’s harder than it should be. If you’re in Belgium, for example, licensing restrictions often prevent you legally buying MP3 downloads from other EU countries – even though you could buy the physical CD online and have it posted. Those restrictions to buying cross-border are not just a barrier to our single market: they’re also frustrating for citizens, they prevent artists getting proper reward and recognition, and they make it harder for new ideas like Spotify to spread across the EU.
Quite a lot of people within the content industry are also waking up to this need to change. And today the European Commission proposed a reform of licensing rules to help get over it.
This doesn’t immediately solve the problem. For a start our proposal needs to be agreed by the European Parliament and Council. Some previous attempts by us to modernise copyright rules – like our relatively modest proposal on orphan works – were significantly watered down by the legislator. This time I hope the Parliament and Council are more aware of the views citizens have expressed: that people love the openness of the Internet, and want easier access to more content. And I hope they realise that reforms to licensing within our single market are a good way to start, while also ensuring that artists benefit.
Even then, today’s legislation isn’t the end of the story. It only concerns music, and only concerns licensing: whereas the European Council called for a more general modernisation of copyright in last month’s Compact for Growth and Jobs.
Just think how different the world was when the 2001 Copyright Directive was agreed: think of the things we didn’t have back then. Videosharing sites like YouTube or Dailymotion; online cultural heritage like Europeana; social networks like Facebook; music and audiovisual services like Shazam, iTunes, Spotify or Netflix; new concepts like datamining or the cloud; new devices like the e-Book and smartphone. Those things barely existed in 2001. In that regard, we will be looking at the 2001 Copyright Directive by the end of this year and legislating to reform copyright levies next year.
But today’s proposal is a very positive start: and I hope the Parliament and Council can also support it and adopt it quickly: and send the right signal that we’re prepared for our copyright system to adapt to digital realities.
More details on the new proposals here.