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.