Well, here's a turn-up for the books. At a time when the European Commission is insisting that the copyright ratchet should be tightened up a few notches by bringing in ACTA, with its perilously vague terms that potentially criminalize even low-level acts of online sharing, here's the Dutch government planning to go in the opposite direction:
The Dutch government wants to change copyright law so new media users can continue to do "creative remixes" of protected content. [It] will no longer wait for the European Commission to find a compromise.
The Dutch government made that clear at a conference it had organized, entitled "Towards Flexible Copyright," where one of the speakers was Bernt Hugenholtz of the Dutch state committee on copyright law. On the subject of YouTube, he said:
"Many of the videos we find there are creative remixes of material protected under copyright. They're mostly for laughs or political commentary, or they're simply absurd. If we applied the law today strictly, we would not be allowed to do these things."
Also speaking at the conference, Netherland's Deputy Justice Minister Fred Teeven said he was exploring "a more flexible system of copyright exceptions that would also work in a European context." One solution would be to replace the limited set of European exceptions to copyright, which are laid down by law and allow no flexibility, with a system more akin to US fair use, which gives courts a certain leeway to determine what exactly is permissible.
Of course, that's an eminently sensible thing to do, not least because it wouldn't require a radical overhaul of European copyright, just some tinkering at the edges. Despite that, the idea is likely to meet stiff resistance -- and not just from the industry dinosaurs that reflexively resist any change that might reverse the copyright ratchet by even a few degrees.
At a time when the European Commission is hell-bent on getting ACTA ratified by the European Parliament, it won't take kindly to national governments going their own way on exceptions. That's particularly the case since the Commission is also drafting a new directive specifically designed to harmonize EU copyright law.
The Dutch government will be well aware of all those countervailing pressures, which makes this unexpected move all the more bold. Let's hope it inspires other EU countries to lend their weight to this much-needed initiative to make European copyright laws fit for the digital age.
Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and on Google+