Copyright Hardliners Adapt 'Copyright Reform' Language; They Just Mean In The Other Direction
from the must-try-harder dept
Neelie Kroes has emerged as perhaps the most Net-savvy politician in the European Commission, with her repeated calls for a new approach to copyright in Europe that takes cognizance of the shift to a digital world. That's one measure of how mainstream the idea has become. Another is the fact that even copyright hardliners like Michel Barnier, the Commissioner responsible for the Internal Market in Europe, are starting to frame the discussion in a similar way. A recent speech, for example, is entitled "Making European copyright fit for purpose in the age of internet", where he asks whether Europe has found the optimum balance between a number of factors:
The widest possible access to quality content for Europeans;
He rightly answers:
Fair remuneration for creators;
Sufficient incentives for those that invest in creation,
And legal certainty for content distributors
I do not think so.
As well as the generally-accepted issue of Europe's poor cross-border licensing, he raises a more contentious area that is causing problems:
I want a copyright framework that provides the right incentives for those that create and invest in content and that ensures the right balance with other policy objectives such as education, research or innovation.
This betrays Barnier's perspective that this is all about money -- that if you are building on someone else's work there will naturally be profit involved somewhere along the line, and that profit should be shared. What this overlooks, of course, is the massive scale of online creativity that has nothing to do with money -- the sharing and mashups that are routine on social networks like Facebook and Twitter, with their often casual reworkings of existing material.
We need an equilibrium. Copyright enables rights holders to function in commercial markets. Removing rights goes quite far: it removes rights holders ability to authorise the use of their content, or to gain reward for their investments. So when can a limitation on these rights be justified? And when should users better acquire a licence to use others' rights for their own commercial gain?
But Barnier will have none of this:
I do not share the view of those that think copyright protection should be weakened so others can develop new commercial services free of cost. This would simply amount to legislating for free-riding: shifting wealth from the content industries -- many of which are based in Europe creating jobs and paying taxes here -- to other industries. This cannot be right.
This is a clear dig at Google, demonized once more for allegedly building its business by exploiting the work of others, made worse by the fact that it pays little in the way of European taxes. But the fundamental problem here is that Barnier equates a "weakening" of copyright protection -- what should rather be called a rebalancing -- with generalized free riding. And even though he says he is open to evaluating "the need to update our system of limitations to copyright", the idea that the public might deserve a fundamentally better deal when it comes to copyright never seems to cross his mind.
He also makes clear that his "vision" includes the following:
A copyright framework that continues to provide incentives must include meaningful enforcement.
With the crisis it is more than ever necessary to eliminate illegal business models that are based on IP infringing activity. This is how we can pave the way for legal offers, especially by innovative start-ups and SMEs. This is also how we transform "informal" economy jobs into real, sustainable job opportunities.
Worryingly, this seems to subscribe to the copyright industry view that before there can be more legal services, illegal ones must be eliminated -- as if that were even possible. It flies in the face of the evidence that it is precisely through the provision of better digital offerings that serve the public's needs that people will be encouraged to turn away from unauthorized sources.
Sadly, in the end, Barnier's "copyright fit for the Internet age" looks depressingly like the current, dysfunctional version: one based on a non-existent scarcity, on treating the public as passive consumers, and on pursuing unachievable enforcement goals with ever-harsher punishments.