Neelie KROES
Vice-President of the European Commission

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Reforming copyright for the digital age: the Commission takes an important step forward

Last week's vote on ACTA – although hardly a surprise for those who've been following – was a reminder about the big debate currently going on, about how to balance intellectual property rights with Internet freedoms For me it's about making it easier for artists to promote their work widely, and make a living from it: without constraining the immense innovation of the online world. And, for me, the current copyright system achieves all of those objectives poorly. That's why I'm convinced we need to reform copyright for the digital age. For me, merely making enforcement more and more heavy-handed is not the solution – especially if it results in draconian measures like cutting off internet access. But a good start – and I hope a principle on which everybody could agree – is that we should make it easier to legally access the content you love. Currently that's harder than it should be. If you're in Belgium, for example, licensing restrictions often prevent you legally buying MP3 downloads from other EU countries – even though you could buy the physical CD online and have it posted. Those restrictions to buying cross-border are not just a barrier to our single market: they're also frustrating for citizens, they prevent artists getting proper reward and recognition, and they make it harder for new ideas like Spotify to spread across the EU. Quite a lot of people within the content industry are also waking up to this need to change. And today the European Commission proposed a reform of licensing rules to help get over it. This doesn't immediately solve the problem. For a start our proposal needs to be agreed by the European Parliament and Council. Some previous attempts by us to modernise copyright rules – like our relatively modest proposal on orphan works – were significantly watered down by the legislator. This time I hope the Parliament and Council are more aware of the views citizens have expressed: that people love the openness of the Internet, and want easier access to more content. And I hope they realise that reforms to licensing within our single market are a good way to start, while also ensuring that artists benefit. Even then, today's legislation isn't the end of the story. It only concerns music, and only concerns licensing: whereas the European Council called for a more general modernisation of copyright in last month's Compact for Growth and Jobs. Just think how different the world was when the 2001 Copyright Directive was agreed: think of the things we didn't have back then. Videosharing sites like YouTube or Dailymotion; online cultural heritage like Europeana; social networks like Facebook; music and audiovisual services like Shazam, iTunes, Spotify or Netflix; new concepts like datamining or the cloud; new devices like the e-Book and smartphone. Those things barely existed in 2001. In that regard, we will be looking at the 2001 Copyright Directive by the end of this year and legislating to reform copyright levies next year. But today's proposal is a very positive start: and I hope the Parliament and Council can also support it and adopt it quickly: and send the right signal that we're prepared for our copyright system to adapt to digital realities. More details on the new proposals here.


  • Good news indeed, but plenty more work to be done, otherwise its the power of the monks trying to stop the printing press taking their jobs. The future is coming, the future is digital, and we can't protect obsolete business models much longer...
  • Forgive the intrusion, I find myself a bit puzzled. I fully encourage these steps as part of a wider perspective on reaching across divides which seperate markets and people alike, but I am missing an element other than mere competition (where I must agree with Ricardo Petrella's observation that we as an economic society are slowly hitting the limits of) as a cornerstone to (proposed) changes which carry inherent vulnerabilities in fields of innovation and derived growth & continuity (of markets and their agents). Yes, it is harder for new ideas such as Spotify to reach across boundaries (not merely borders), and adaptations can certainly help. But how can such innovation stand against vested interests with far wider and deeper reach such as distribution agents as for example Amazon. Smoothing the crossing of boundaries on its own does not provide a guaranteed arena o maneuvering room for innovative initiatives when that same smoothing also enables those already vested to bank with the same advantages. Or does it?  
  • Let's face it: Copyright is not about authors rights but about the 4-5 remaining content licensing multinationals which spam our markets with anglophone content and undermine our national and European culture. Only striking at the commercial base of their endevours will bring back actual culture driven by the people, culture as an expression of the people, not a market product. Culture of value is publicly sponsored anyway. So it is better to move back to the 19 century and abolish Berne copyright excess. From an ordoliberal perspective the first regulatory step must be crushing the content cartels and opening access for artists  to cultural contribution channels. What we see and hear in the way of news and entertainment through the printed word, television, and radio is owned by only five multinational corporations: News Corporation, AOL-Time Warner, the Walt Disney Company, Vivendi International, and Viacom. Extremely dangerous as a concentration of powers and how far they are willing to go to protect their licensing income streams.
  • Hi Martin, I beg to disagree, 1. I fundamentally dislike the idea of using any legal institution to crush anything. It could develop a taste for it anytime. 2. We should ride the tide and push in the way things are already going : Internet makes intermediaries of all sorts irrelevant. So we should ask the legal institution to help creators get a fair share of the revenue for their work - in a new legal frame they can opt for.  I think it will go quicker to unravel the majors business models than fighting the legal fight (for which majors are well prepared). So yes in the end solving the author rights problem is the real key to ending copyrights abuse.
  • Thank you for all you are doing to help with this vexatious issue. I'm very pleased to see that the need for copyright reform is being recognised and that steps are being taken to make this happen. Like you, I see the need for creators to be rewarded for their work and I'm delighted that you have noticed that it's the collections agencies that are the problem. New business models are essential in an age when copying has never been easier and I look forward to seeing them promoted and implemented. I hope that a new law that prevents further upward ratcheting and guarantees net neutrality is on its way. We really need that, and as soon as possible. We also need a guarantee to the right to online privacy. Our various governments are implementing surveillance policies that are onerous to our ISPs and horribly unfair to us and if they're not going to repeal them you're our only hope. By the way, orphan works needs to be looked at again. We need to have more work passing into the public domain with the option of compensating the creator if he or she should turn up before a specific expiration date. I trust that the ridiculous situation that arose in the JURI vote on the matter in March this year won't be repeated.
  • Dear Mrs Vice-President, indeed the Council asked to be diligent to achieve a well-functioning Digital Single Market by 2015, which will provide new dynamism to the European economy. In particular, priority should be given to measures aimed at further developing cross-border online trade (...) modernise Europe's copyright regime and facilitate licensing, while ensuring a high level of protection of intellectual property rights and taking into account cultural diversity. As book publishers, you can be convinced of our willingness to improve the functionning of the internal market so that more citizens can read our books.  A high level of protection of intellectual property rights, as CEOs of the largest EU publishing houses told you when we met with you in Brussels last june, copyright is the cornerstone of the publishing investment and cannot be undermined without risking to fragilise the entire chain. Taking into account cultural diversity, we are also the garant of cultural diversity, several tens of thousands of publishing houses in Europe, publishing books in tens of languages, languages read by our citizens all across the continent. If there are issues such as the difficulty to identify authors, we can develop solutions (thanks for your help by the way) such as ARROW  We are committed to work with you and all stakeholders to find balanced solutions.
  • Congratulations and thanks for you recognising cross-border licensing of distribution rights for digital content as one of the most important issues relative to European competitiveness today. Unfortunately, the proposed legislation is insufficient seeing as it only covers "those collecting societies willing to engage in the multi-territorial licensing of their repertoire". Your proposed legislation is toothless and will do hardly anything to encourage the formation of a single market for digital content and services unless you make compulsory cross-border licensing part of the legislation. Spotify, Voddler and others want a *one stop shop* for distribution rights the European market and you are not giving them this with the proposed legislation that me looks like some voluntary guidelines for accountability towards the record companies and nothing like legislation intended to further the creation of a single, European market. Unless you sharpen the requirements imposed on the collection agencies significantly I shall be forced to encourage my local MEP to vote against your insufficient proposal. Thanks for your attention.
  • Copyright reform are there to protect authors but in fact protect as some respondents have stated large corp[orate interests. If I purchase a CD or DVD  I can only play it in designated global zones. If purchased in Europe (Zone 2 ) a piece of music or video I cannot play it in other zones and what is worse equipement is designed to prevent it being played. When purchasing an item I acquired the right to use it wherever I am. In practice I am denied that right When will Brussels address this racket engineered by the big boys and aided by  the political elite
  • I am extremely happy to hear about this initiative by the Commission to take a hard look at the current copyright system in order to make it more "up-to-date" with our current digital reality. Copyright should never be considered as a "moral" right of authors given for their hard work, but a tool to provide both incentives for authors to continue producing and adequate dissemination of knowledge throughout the community. Sadly, it seems, that in the last decades, the balance has progressively shifted towards the former. It is time to base a new copyright system based on facts and not assumptions. Time to assess, whether the incentive to produce new art would truly be reduced if copyright owners would be granted - horribile dictu - only 10-15 years of monopoly over their works, instead of 100-150 years. It is time to see, how orphan works could be disseminated to the generic public rather than held locked in for decades.  
  • Martin is on the right lines, but when you begin unravelling the thread of injustice you realise you have to continue, to unravel it all the way back until you unravel the 1709 Statute of Anne, and arrive at the bedrock of natural law - liberty unabridged by privilege. See The (un)Nature Of Copyright
  • It's nearly a month since this came out but I've been thinking about what could be done at the EC level and I came up with this: Make the grey market legal. Outlaw all contractual arrangements which limit sales to one country. Rights holders can do deals with as many sellers as they want, charge them different prices if they want, but the sellers can then sell to anyone anywhere. Copyright is a priveledge we grant to rights holders. That does not mean we have to let them indulge in nefarious conspiracies against the public. They don't get to denounce licensed copies as counterfeit depending on where the purchaser lives. Yes this will completely disrupt the existing arrangements for comercialising books, music and movies. That's the point.
  • That's a tough one.  I believe all information on the internet should be free, but where do you draw the line? If you write something and put out on the internet, it is virtually accessible to every one and any one.  So if you put it out there you are opening yourself up to people ripping off your stuff.  This applies to all forms of digital media.  There are even people making money from youtube views on videos that other people made. It's hard for any governing body to censor and monitor everything on the internet.  It even worse these days with social media that is a platform for anyone to share anything, plagiarizer or otherwise.
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