It seems like the whole world is slowly coming to grips that our printing-press-era rules may not be the best way to stimulate creation and regulate information flows in hugely complex digital networks. The EU is now officially taking the lead
in the worldwide discussions on copyright reform. This move may give much needed support to governments that have tried to touch on the topic, but for *some reason
* withdrew or ignored good initiatives and advice.
Commissioner Barnier's recent speech
about "Making European copyright fit for purpose in the age of internet
" was a sign of hope, but closer inspection
revealed that he was planning no more than some relatively predictable updates of the current rules. Although the gesture was nice, it was more likely a reframing of his untenable previous maximalist position and lacked any fundamental meaning.
It appears now that two colleagues of his, Neelie Kroes
(Digital Agenda) and Androulla Vassiliou
(Education and Culture), have expertly called Barnier's bluff and have taken the lead for full and much needed copyright reform. All three will sit on the board of a yearlong "structured stakeholder process
", which will commence at the start of 2013. This exercise will assess whether "the market
" is able to address the current deficiencies of copyright in the following six topics: "cross-border portability of content, user-generated content, data- and text-mining, private copy levies, access to audiovisual works and cultural heritage.
In 2014 the three Commissioners will sit down again together, analyze the findings and decide whether concrete policy action is needed. Fortunately, we can already note that, indeed, substantial legislative reform will be needed to address the four areas the Commission is focusing on, namely:
1) Mitigating the effects of territoriality in the Internal Market;
2) Agreeing appropriate levels of harmonization, limitations and exceptions to copyright in the digital age;
3) How best to reduce the fragmentation of the EU copyright market;
4) How to improve the legitimacy of enforcement in the context of wider copyright reform.
Note how the first three areas are surprisingly similar, if not the same thing. The European copyright structure is based on territoriality
, so addressing these three points requires extensive reform from many angles and on many levels.
The fourth area of concern (legitimizing enforcement) is the Commission admitting that ACTA was a bad idea. The Commission, just like Congress in the US after SOPA/PIPA, both realize they need to tread very carefully with any proposal that has an effect on fundamental rights on the internet, or internet freedom
,as it we now call it. This is where the civil society and the actors who joined forces to stop ACTA, SOPA and PIPA can now step up and present a positive and realistic agenda for reform. Let's not have the "copyright reform" movement be hijacked by special narrow interests who think they're getting clever now by reframing the debate.
While the open democratic discussion on copyright reform will not commence today, hopefully this is a move in the right direction, which should open a window of opportunity for meaningful reform. Knowing the European Commission and their talent for delay-tactics, especially on the copyright dossier, it's not likely we'll have any real copyright reform any time soon. However, we do now have a firm commitment from a major international government that the copyright system is in dire need of a very close inspection.
Hopefully the British will now feel supported in implementing the recommendations of the Hargreaves report
. Perhaps the Dutch will also feel justified to proceed with the idea to make their copyright system more flexible
. Overseas governments may also feel reinforced to open the discussions on their copyright systems and join the EU in finding the new way forward. But will the EU's move encourage the GOP to republish their recent insightful report
on copyright reform?
Whatever the knock-on effects may be, there's much more work to be done than suggested in this initiative to analyze the workings of the copyright system properly and to come up with a model for meaningful reform. However, this initiative deserves close attention by all interested groups to help steer it in the right way.