EU Commissioner Kroes: Copyright Is 'A Tool To Punish And Withhold'; New Business Models, Not More Enforcement Needed
from the she-really-gets-it dept
Neelie Kroes is that rare thing: a politician who actually seems to understand digital technologies. Before she became the European Commissioner for Digital Agenda, her current post, she was European Commissioner for Competition, and in that capacity made a speech about open standards in 2008 that included the following interesting statements:
It is simplistic to assume that because some intellectual property protection is good, that such protection should therefore be absolute in all circumstances.
if we extend intellectual property protection for technology, then we should only do so when it is justified under intellectual property principles, i.e. on the basis of evidence that such extension will lead to more innovations and will therefore promote consumer welfare.
Those comments were about problems with the patent system, and now Kroes has brought her frankness to bear on copyright:
let’s ask ourselves, is the current copyright system the right and only tool to achieve our objectives? Not really, I’m afraid. We need to keep on fighting against piracy, but legal enforceability is becoming increasingly difficult; the millions of dollars invested trying to enforce copyright have not stemmed piracy. Meanwhile citizens increasingly hear the word copyright and hate what is behind it. Sadly, many see the current system as a tool to punish and withhold, not a tool to recognise and reward.
That’s pretty stunning stuff for an EU Commissioner to be saying, given the European Commission’s whole-hearted support for ACTA, and its plans for IPRED 2. Kroes goes on:
We need to go back to basics and put the artist at the centre, not only of copyright law, but of our whole policy on culture and growth. In times of change, we need creativity, out-of-the-box thinking: creative art to overcome this difficult period and creative business models to monetise the art. And for this we need flexibility in the system, not the straitjacket of a single model. The platforms, channels and business models by which content is produced, distributed and used can be as varied and innovative as the content itself.
Again, that focus on new business models rather than ever-more punitive copyright enforcement is a refreshing recognition by a very senior European politician of the real problem facing the creative industries: their failure to adapt to the vastly-different business landscape created by the Internet. Kroes picks up on that theme in her conclusion:
There are many new ideas out there ? ideas, for example, like extended collective licensing as practised in Scandinavia, or other ideas that seek to both legitimise and monetise certain uses of works. Are these ideas the right ones to achieve our goals? I don’t know. But too often we can’t even try them out because of some old set of rules made for a different age ? whether it is the Berne Convention, the legislation exceptions and limitations on the VAT Directive or some other current law. So new ideas which could benefit artists are killed before they can show their merit, dead on arrival. This needs to change.
I can’t set out for you now what the model should be and indeed it’s not the kind of model that should be developed from the centre. Rather we need to create a framework in which a model ? or indeed several models ? can develop organically, flexibly, in ways that support artists.
I see how some European stakeholders see with horror the arrival of Netflix, or the expansion of iTunes. We need to react, not to be paralysed by fear. Let’s take chances. As Zygmunt Bauman put it, “the function of culture is not to satisfy existing needs, but to create new ones”.
So that’s my answer: it’s not all about copyright. It is certainly important, but we need to stop obsessing about that. The life of an artist is tough: the crisis has made it tougher. Let’s get back to basics, and deliver a system of recognition and reward that puts artists and creators at its heart.
It’s tremendously good news that Kroes has not only recognized these problems but is prepared to articulate them publicly. It suggests that at least someone within the European Commission gets it. Too bad, then, that Kroes seems to be as exceptional in that respect as in her grasp of the underlying digital technologies that are driving these huge changes.