EU Commission VP Neelie Kroes Explains Why Copyright Is Broken: It Was Made In An Age Of Gatekeepers

from the times-have-changed dept

While the EU Commission has been much more copyright maximalist at times (it was the major driver behind ACTA in Europe), some on the Commission have been pushing back on such views for a while. Neelie Kroes, who is VP of the EU Commission and in charge of “the digital agenda,” has been speaking out on these issues for a while. Last year, she pointed out that new business models, rather than greater enforcement was the right path forward. She’s also spoken out against kicking people offline and in favor of open innovation and creation.

She’s now given another talk on copyright issues, in which she notes that the world has changed a great deal in the last 14 years since Europe last reviewed proposals to update its Copyright Directive. While many maximalists would say the same thing and focus on the struggles of particular subsector — the record labels — Kroes properly notes that the real change (which is, in part, why the labels have struggled) is that the world has shifted from one in which gatekeepers control the means of production and distribution, into one where everyone can create and distribute works:

The last major EU copyright instrument, the Copyright Directive, was adopted in 2001. The Commission proposals it was based on date back to 1998.

Let’s remind ourselves what’s happened since then.

In 1998, Mark Zuckerberg was 14. Today, almost one billion people around the world actively use Facebook, to share photos, videos, and ideas.

In 1998, YouTube didn’t exist. Today, one hour of video is uploaded every second.

In 1998, most people listened to music on the radio, CD or tape. Now digital downloads often overtake conventional sales. New technologies allow downloading or streaming; easily, instantly, wherever you are. Not just to passively listen, but to interact and give feedback, to creators and friends.

But changes are not limited to the content business, they affect all sectors. Huge changes have taken place in the research area. Today, new scientific discoveries don’t just come from new experiments, new drugs, new clinical trials: in fact, now, we can get new results by manipulating existing data. Data and text-mining techniques now lie behind a huge field of research, like human genome projects, potentially life-saving. They could hold the key to the next medical breakthrough, if only we freed them from their current legal tangle. Research activities are not clearly exempted from the copyright rules and there are many different rules in the 27 member states.

And here’s the most important change since 1998. Back then, creation and distribution were in the hands of the few. Now they are in the hands of everyone: democratising innovation, empowering people to generate and exchange ideas, supporting and stimulating huge creativity.

From there, she notes that copyright may be holding back the real policy issues that they should be focused on — which isn’t just about setting up a system for artists to earn money, but also to “stimulate creativity and innovation, improve consumer choice, promote our cultural heritage and help the sector drive economic growth.” But, with copyright designed for a gatekeeper society, and focused solely on a system for certain artists to get paid, you have a broken system. As Kroes points out “you have to look at how [copyright] fits into the real world” and she notes that it’s clearly lacking. Everywhere you look, copyright seems to be getting in the way of the important policy issues she mentioned, rather than helping them along:

Well for one thing, you often find that online licensing restrictions make it impossible to buy music legally. Sometimes, for example, you can’t buy an MP3 across an EU border.

We have already made a proposal on orphan works and recently one on collective rights management, to make multi-territorial licensing easier. The licensing proposal is a good step forward to make it easier to legally access the music you love, especially across borders. I hope legislators are able to agree it quickly. But this tackles only one aspect of the problem.

Because there are other problems too beyond licensing or orphan works. That’s why the June ‘Compact for Growth and Jobs’ makes clear we need to focus also on substantive copyright reform.

And quite right too. For example, I ask myself, are current copyright rules favourable to potentially life-saving scientific research or do they stand in its way?

Do they make it easier or harder for people to upload and distribute their own, new creative content? And is that the best way to boost creativity and innovation?

It seems clear that Kroes — like many of us — recognizes the unfortunate answer today is “no, copyright does not help those things, it makes it harder for individuals to create content and it’s not the best way to boost creativity and innovation.” This is why we’re seeing countries finally start to look at true copyright reform, rather than just doubling down on a broken system.

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Comments on “EU Commission VP Neelie Kroes Explains Why Copyright Is Broken: It Was Made In An Age Of Gatekeepers”

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MrWilson says:

In my day, young people respected gates. They knew who kept the gates and they knew that they had to pay the toll if they wanted in. They didn’t just jump over the gates like kids these days. They didn’t have the technology to get over the gates. They had to go through them! They never questioned why we put the gates up either. I tell you, we need to do away with this new technology that allows gate-jumping or else things won’t remain exactly the same as when I was making all that money off of charging a toll for use of the gate. I even put up a gate around my yard, but the kids just jump that gate too. Now I have to go outside and yell at them, “hey kids, stay off my lawn!” No respect, I tell you.

/dinosaur rant

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Typical anti-gate attitude from Techdirt’s anti-gate apologists. Gates are there for a reason, and it’s against the law go around the gates.

Gates are really important to society and think of all the great things we get from having gates.

Anti-gate Mike is just a shill for Big Open Space.


Niall (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Is this your first time on the Internet?

‘You are’ joke is extremely weak?

BTW, in case you hadn’t noticed, Mr I-have-no-sense-of-humour-(or-humor), the point of that parody was to show the ridiculousness of the viewpoint that ‘gates’ are somehow ‘holy’ or ‘necessary’. Or that people won’t learn how to climb over them.

Although to be fair, rather than having the weakness of ‘people intruding on private land’ the metaphor would have worked better with a gatekeeper who had used to have a wall and gate in the middle of common ground, and now people have found a way to climb the gate – or the wall has fallen down in large areas, but the gatekeeper is still expecting people to pay the toll for his gate.

This, of course, is a gatekeeper who keeps trying to enclose more and more ocmmon ground for longer and longer periods…

Anonymous Coward says:

Quick! Stop The World!

The old gatekeepers hate progress – they wanted to swim in your hard-earned gold forever. So they bought themselves “copyright law extensions” which the governments (paid with your tax dollars) were damned-near giving away.

I don’t blame you for missing this abuse – you were too busy working in order to earn the gatekeepers’ livings (that you handed them while trusting them when all they did was lie and screw you).

The old gatekeepers ask: “why change?”. After all, they were quite happy to just keep screwing you and playing you for suckers.

gorehound (profile) says:

Even if the MAFIAA changes their evil ways I still will not be running to them.I have pretty much been the guy who always supported the Underdogs……………
John Waters through the 70’s, Indie Films, Punk Rock, Obscure 60’s and early 70’s Rock over the Big Bands, Garage Rock stuff. ETC.
Rather blow my small spending allotment on some kind of Indie Type Art.
I really am not hurting by not viewing or by not caring about these Big Book, Film, and Music Industries.I have a huge Library that will last me many years.

surfer (profile) says:

Re: agreed

absolutely agreed, I think this is what the MAFIAA fears most, is ppl that simply stop buying their offerings due to the fact you can easily accumulate a massive library that will occupy your time for years to come.

I myself have taken to the habit of simply buying hard drives instead of burning digital content to media that degrades.

Adam (profile) says:

More than just creators.

It is not just copyright that empowers gate keeping. Think, for a moment, about higher education. Long the provenance of universities, they now find themselves competing with online courses. MIT has been doing this for a while, but others are joining the effort to make higher education available to anyone with access to an Internet portal. Yes, gatekeeper copyright gets in the way of that too, but it’s slowly being overcome as more researchers put their work online. There really is a revolution.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: More than just creators.

Employer evaluation of exam papers will leave the competition, so-so. Everyone can get a degree and everyone can learn whatever they set their mind to, but with the way most employers look at larger projects of “e-learning”, it is not a gatekeeper-problem yet. You have to understand that education mostly operates after the priority:
1. Prestige/recognition/scientific funding
2. Scientific equipment/ideology/other professors at university
2. Availability and/or quality of teaching/teaching materials (very subjective)
4. Publishing gain for the professor

Publishing gains is very low on the list since research is a hunt for making yourself remembered. I have had several professors giving away their books for free in PDF-format!
Availability of papers will inevitably move towards online only and free platforms since the professors look at their gains from publishing as far too little and it coming far too late in their careers for the most part!

There is no problem between the online and offline portions of education and I think it will be a very long time before there can be a real clash.
The only real problem at the moment is handling of other copyrighted materials. So far paper-copies has been swept into the endless pockets of collection societies and redistributed from there. Hopefully it will be possible to save even more of the rain-forests today by having online content available everywhere (today licensing on universities is very complex, with almost infinite categories of different online DRM-ridden access-deals, offline access and mixed subscriptions. It is being moved towards online by publishers already but prices go way up and quality down in the process as Mike has covered before!)

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

“And quite right too. For example, I ask myself, are current copyright rules favourable to potentially life-saving scientific research or do they stand in its way? “

You have to ask that and that is sad.
Some research can’t go forward because they fear being sued by companies with “rights” to things that might be used during it.
Some research can’t happen because we’ve awarded rights over basic ideas and concepts, sometimes to companies who do nothing with them but sit back and collect rent.
We have global corporations who can’t figure out how to create a system allowing them worldwide rights to distribute content, because they created a patchwork system to stave off competition and make more money.

The concept worked better before the digital age, but now they are dated and wrong. They hold back society as a whole because large corporations line lawmakers pockets to pretend the world has not changed.

Anonymous Coward says:

“Do they make it easier or harder for people to upload and distribute their own, new creative content?”

The answer to this question is: NEITHER.

Copyright doesn’t have any adverse effects on “new creative content”.

It does however touch non-innovative, derivative, and repetitious content like remixes and reuses of performance or content.

He seems to be falling for the same silly “your performance is my raw material” argument that is rather full of baloney.

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