On Wednesday, the European Parliament Legal Affairs Committee (JURI) adopted a copyright reform proposal
based on the report that Pirate Party MEP Julia Reda released
earlier this year. There were tons of amendments and some of the important ideas in the original report were taken out or watered down -- something that Reda readily admits
. Former Pirate Party MEP Amelia Andersdotter, who had complained about Reda's report from the start, is vocally upset
about the outcome, arguing that accomplishing a plan with only moderate ambitions is not what the Pirate Party should be supporting.
That said, there are some real reforms
in there, including dropping the proposal for ancillary copyrights
, better known as a "snippet tax" or "Google News tax" that many are pushing for. Missing from the final result, however, was support for "freedom of panorama" -- an important concept allowing people to photograph things in public (like the Eiffel Tower). Also troubling was the inclusion of an amendment that says copyright holders need to give express permission for works to be performed in public spaces, which could create a huge mess.
In short, it's copyright reform, but like most copyright reform lately, there's a jumble of concepts mixed in -- some good, some bad. When the US Congress finally gets around to releasing its plan for comprehensive copyright reform, it's likely to be something similar. A mixed bag of decent ideas and bad ideas, each designed to trade off on each other, to try to keep "both sides" happy -- or, more realistically, to placate both sides from being too angry about the stuff they consider bad.
But that's no way to create real reform. I understand how both Reda and Andersdotter feel on this issue and sympathize with both positions. Getting anything
through on copyright reform is nearly impossible, so even marginally good changes can, quite reasonably, be seen as a big step -- especially after years of most reforms leaning much more heavily on bad ideas, with almost no good ones. Having a proposal move forward that at least has some good ideas in it is... progress.
But, it's also messy and marginal progress that comes along with some bad ideas as well. It becomes more about the politics of getting something
than getting the best result.
And that's where this whole process is a bit depressing -- as is politics all too often. You focus on getting something
done and it involves a lot of horse trading and marginal improvements rather than big fixes. It's also why it's so frustrating to see so many people continue to argue that copyright is about "two" competing interests -- copyright holders and the public. That's not the case. An ideal copyright system should be maximizing benefit to both. We should be looking at real policy changes that creates greater overall benefit, but no one seems willing to even entertain that possibility. And, for that reason, I share Andersdotter's dismay -- but not with Reda, rather with a process that is, itself, quite broken. Reda got something through that, frankly, would have been close to impossible a very short period of time ago. The fact that it's pretty limited speaks a lot more to the overall political system today than it does to Reda herself. But these small victories are important for the time being, so long as the overall focus is on creating real reforms in the long run.