The Ratchet: Even Demonstrably Ineffectual And Unnecessary Copyright Laws Are Never Repealed

from the the-ratchet-only-works-in-one-direction dept

The European Union is working on a number of important new digital laws. These includes the Digital Services Act, the Digital Markets Act, and the Data Act. A new press release about the last of these contains the following section:

the Data Act reviews certain aspects of the Database Directive, which was created in the 1990s to protect investments in the structured presentation of data. Notably, it clarifies that databases containing data from Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices and objects should not be subject to separate legal protection. This will ensure they can be accessed and used.

The Database Directive mentioned there grants copyright protection to databases that “by reason of the selection or arrangement of their contents, constitute the author’s own intellectual creation”. It’s a typical attempt to widen the scope of copyright to something that has only the most tenuous kind of “creativity” involved. It was brought in because copyright maximalists believe you can’t have too much copyright, and politicians are too lazy to argue.

Unusually, though, the EU agreed to do something that is never done: to review whether extending copyright actually brings any benefits. Ten years after the Database Directive was passed, an evaluation was published in 2005. It aims were as follows:

the evaluation focused on whether the European database industry’s rate of growth increased after the introduction of the new right; whether the beneficiaries of the new right produced more databases than they would have produced in the absence of this right; and whether the scope of the right was drafted in a way that targets those areas where Europe needs to encourage innovation.

And here is what the European Commission’s own evaluation found:

The economic impact of the “sui generis” right on database production is unproven. Introduced to stimulate the production of databases in Europe, the new instrument has had no proven impact on the production of databases.

The report also wrote that the “empirical evidence, at this stage, casts doubts” on the need for a special copyright for a thriving database industry. So you might think that the obvious, rational thing to do would be to repeal an ineffectual, unneeded monopoly. Instead, the report noted that repealing the directive “would probably lead to considerable resistance by the EU database industry.” In other words, purely because the copyright industry would whine about it, the European Commission’s report recommended leaving in place a law that by its own research was shown to be pointless.

This is a perfect example of the copyright ratchet: the fact that copyright always gets longer, stronger, and broader, and that once passed, copyright laws are never weakened or repealed. It’s one of the reasons why copyright is such a disaster today. Its laws were framed for the analogue world, and the copyright industry refuses to countenance updating them to make them fit for the digital world. Indeed, as the upload filters in the EU’s horribly-misnamed Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market show, new laws are actively making things worse.

Follow me @glynmoody on TwitterDiaspora, or Mastodon.

Originally posted on the Walled Culture blog.

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Comments on “The Ratchet: Even Demonstrably Ineffectual And Unnecessary Copyright Laws Are Never Repealed”

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Anonymous Coward says:


While it’s true that EU may have originated the Berne convention and 70-year copyright terms. I suspect even the EU may have gotten sick of some American DMCA-style bullshit. Last year the EU courts ruled that reverse-engineering legitimately licensed software for the purpose of correcting issues was not a copyright violation and thus not a crime. That’s a small but notable step in the right direction IMO.

Anonymous Coward says:


The Berne Convention predates the EU by over 100 years, so that’s a big no. The term extensions were engineered by Disney to protect the Mickey Mouse copyright, so again no.

Overall, the EU’s biggest failing in the copyright space seems to be their willingness to sell out their own people and local businesses to pander to the interests of giant american corporations that just want to hamstring competition.

Anonymous Coward says:

Copyright laws were made for the pre digital world where there were not millions of people making videos and audio content every day and making gifs memes and digital art no one knows how filters will work when there’s no central register of most of the work that’s created apart from films and shows made for TV and music made by artists who have contracts with the major music company’s
We have seen big company’s claiming videos on YouTube that are fair use parody or political commentary on current events or claiming video hour long videos for using 3 seconds of audio laws are mainly designed to help old legacy company’s or big media corporations not for the public

Anonymous Coward says:


>Copyright laws were made for the pre digital world where there were not millions of people making videos and audio content every day and making gifs memes and digital art no one knows how filters will work

Pre-Internet there was a lot of creative work carried out, it was just that almost all of it failed to find a publisher. The Internet has simply allowed all that work to be published, and where some of it finds an audience, it does result in more works being produced.

Pre-Internet a fraction of a percent of human creativity found a publisher, and therefore the remnants of creativity from the pre-Internet era are to be found moldering in attics, as photo albums and manuscripts that failed to find a publisher.

Space5000 (profile) says:

A Special Kind of Cancer

Copyright’s corruption is like a special kind of cancer. No known cure, but you can slow it down, maybe even at least stop it from becoming worse, which is kinda happening these days with the Copyright extension thing, hopefully.

I have often thought what would happen if we reduce Copyright’s term, and it just feels like it wouldn’t happen any time soon due to the likelihood of backlashes from a bunch of “creators”. That part near the end of the article nearly, if not, pretty much sums my feelings up about the possibility, and it’s depressing. The only hope I can really think of is protesting for reducing bad Copyright laws by many people to change it for the good, as I feel that it’s the most likelihood effective way since a lot of law makers don’t much rely on evidence based research only.

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