Neelie KROES
Vice-President of the European Commission

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Is copyright working?

What do you think of, when you think of copyright? A tool to recognise and reward artists? Or a tool to punish and withhold material? For me the answer should clearly be the first. But all too often, in the digital age, it is seen as the second. Our current copyright system is not succeeding in its objectives. I agree we should fight against piracy. But it's becoming increasingly hard to legally enforce copyright rules, a battle that costs millions of dollars with little signs of victory. Meanwhile, artists continue to struggle by on a pittance, as the copyright system fails to reward them properly. I was shocked at the number of artists – whether they're writers, painters, photographers, musicians, whatever - whose earnings are under the paltry figure of 1000 euros a month, less than the minimum wage.  That's pretty devastating, for the artists themselves and for Europe as a whole. Because the creative sector is what we're good at in Europe – something that could really help us grow in the future, economically and culturally. It's not for us to dictate the best business models. But we should have a framework which permits innovation and puts artists at its heart.  A system which does not straitjacket art, but which allows new ideas to thrive—for distribution and use as well as production. Because the business models can and should be as creative as the art itself. New areas like cloud computing could transform what it means to buy or distribute an artwork – we need a system flexible enough to respond. But at the moment, we're not flexible or responsive enough. Too often the response to innovative ideas – to ideas like Netflix or iTunes - is simply to be paralysed with fear and inaction. Spotify just reached us here in Belgium – a whole three years after it launched elsewhere in the EU! Ideas shouldn't take so long to spread within a single market. To do this, we need to make the most use of new technology – because new applications like a repertoire database could help artists. And we need to look at the legal framework too. There are lots of potential ideas out there for new systems of recognition and reward – but too often they are killed stone dead by rigid, pre-digital legislation. Meanwhile legislation can discriminate against innovative forms of distribution – for example, e-books don't benefit from the same VAT reduced rates as "physical" books. I find this pretty hard to explain. The life of an artist has always been tough – the crisis has made it tougher. But I have been clear that we need to go back to basics and put artists back at the centre, not only of copyright law, but our whole policy on culture and growth.


  • Not only new ideas are being smashed, but also (small) companies get sued or threatened to pay thousands of Euro’s when copyrighted material is added to the website. This often happens by mistake or it’s added by it’s users, who usually don’t know the law that well. In the Netherlands the website owner is responsible whatever is added to the website. When you let users comment on articles or write something on a website the website owner is responsible but hasn’t got the tools to check if copyright material is added. Shouldn’t the government providing a tool so websites can check the material before it’s added, or change the law? There are even companies who exploit the copyright law, and in my opinion this should never be the purpose of any law. If I understand the law in my country correctly I’m, and many other website owners with me are, not able to operate legally the website I currently own, because the risks are way to high.
  • How does the current copyright system reward artists? In short: In a perverted way. - How does paying someone for a single act of creativity half a century ago, stimulate creativity? - The profits end up at the big record companies - New creativity is being suppressed on a massive scale: Photographers scout the web for innocent teenagers who copied a photo; youtube artists can avert jailsentences by paying huge amounts of money for the heinous crime of remixing a song; documentaries are witheld because a fragment of copyrighted material can be seen in the background. Interesting concepts of a new copyright system would be: - No artist can ever sign away his rights permanently. He can always take them back at short notice. - Every artist who publishes his/her work, accepts that after a period of protection, the work becomes public property. So after 20 years of protection, people can hum, sing, play, remix the work as they see fit.  If the artist doesn't want the public to own it, he or she simply does not release the work. - Infrignement will be measured by revenue made, revenue lost, and the amount to which these revenues are attributable to the copyrighted work. Hence a teenager playbacking a tune will not be held for millions of dollars or euro's; but re-use which makes money, or costs money, is accountable.
  • Κούνα το και άλλο
  • There is a long and ongoing discussion going on, from more than a year, about this @ Linkedin. Lots of views an ideas. For me it's not a problem to pay right for the artist, but most of the time it's not the artist that benefit but industry. Even if you pay 1 euro for a song, that's way to much. A vinyl record was cheaper in the stores! Now it's digital, no transport cost, no cost of any copy and it cost more! A eBook it's the same, and than again, the "Publisher" and webstore owner takes about 80% of the total! If we buy a record/mp3 of Micheal Jackson, where is the money going? Not to the artist! Must a radio station pay to make someone famous, so the can sellout there concerts all over the world!? U2 has the record of making money with there latest world-tour, more than 500.000,00 mil. ! How much did the make in the same time selling records/mp3? Just a fraction! It's a other time, Its time to make your money in a other way! And what the most also don't understand, is, Cloud! Like the song send in the Cloud! Where about to have the end of the PC, tables & smartphone's, and all there data is in the cloud! You don't need to download nothing illegal anymore, it's all in the cloud, at anywhere @ anytime, as long there is a connection! Are You still paying by the minute to get on the internet @ your house? No! Times are changing, maybe it becomes time that the industry/publisher wakes up. I love to see a Ferrari, beautiful design, must be don by a fantastic artist! The nice part is that I don't have to pay for it each time when I see one driving by!
  • It should be a way to reward the artist, and pay all the professionals that worked in the industry. At the same time, however, copyright should not hinder the possibility of the user of fully enjoying the product. Today i do not buy a movie in a shop near my place and watch it at home. Today i perhaps hear about a movie when is coming out in the US, I buy it online while waiting for my flight in France, I watch it in the original language with subtitles on the plane, and then when at home in Italy i may finish watching it on my television. none of these activities is unlawful, but often i cannot do it. movies are not available in europe at the same time they are available in the US. I cannot buy TV series online. If i buy the DVD in the US, my computer will not be able to play it, neither would my home DVD player. Often the DVD version I find in shops in Italy is in italian, no original version possible. I think it should be remembered that music, cinema, arts in general, are created by an artist, and have the objective to be seen and enjoyed by people. intermediaries should be just that, and facilitate things, rather than making them too complicated.          
  • How about a tax to promote the creation and distribution of "free" (as in public domain or creative commons) content such as Wikipedia? France has a tax on digital storage media (CD ROMs, USB keys, etc), the product of which is given to the private sector. A similar tax could be invented to promote alternatives to copyrighted works: either creators or distributors.
  • I fully agree. I don't mind to pay for music (I have a Spotify Premium account) but sometimes the record labels make it impossible (see I don't play CD's I'n my car, I use my iPhone. That leaves me with the options of copying the music from CD to my iPhone (legal in The Netherlands as far as I know, but very time-consuming) or just downloading a copy from somewhere else. It is very sad to see a whole industry unable to cope with the demands of new generations... And I guess that includes the legislation around that industry.
  • Same problem here. I buy DVD from other european countries of series and films I can not buy in Spain, but I almost never use my DVD player. I usually download from the net a illegal copy and watch it instead of the DVD (almost always with less quality). I mean, I don't buy the DVD because I want the physical object, so it should be easy to obtain it in digital form for the same prize (probably cheaper).
  • As nice as I find your proposals, I have a question: Do you think that the current public institutions - such as the EU institutions that have grown out of French-German administrative culture of hierarchy and closed processes -, institutions that are thinking in bureaucratic terms and are almost explicitly designed to work against creativity, able to shape policies that favour creative potential that is hardly to measure in standardised indicators? I have my doubts…
  • I am an artist and an economist. Although I make a little money out of work copyrighted in the 1990s, I have found myself opposing the IFPI's positions on economic ground. The executive summary is: the copyright system is an (1) inefficient and (2) regressive way to compensate artist. In particular, I loathe the idea that IFPI would speak for us: they are our counterpart, not our allies, and have no right to speak for us. Jokes about  foxes representing chicken spring to mind. Usually the rhetorical move is to enroll some superstar  to endorse industry views. In Italy, 90% of members of SIAE  (collecting society, a state monopoly until recently) have revenues that are less than the yearly membership fee. Let's look at the numbers and start from the facts, disposing of supposed "protecting the artist" ideology. Please.
  • I think there is a big difference between copyright and rights to make money out of something. When someone create something, he always have the copyright of its creation. I own the copyright of my blog, and, probably, I own the copyright of the comment I'm writing. One can keep the copyright, even if gives away the right of using its work (see Creative Commons). As far as I know, this is not officially possible, at least with SIAE in Italy, where every work has to be registered and the artist has to pay a fee to have SIAE be an intermediary The problem is the right to use a work someone else did. I agree with you: the biggest problem is the non-single market. In Europe, on iTunes you cannot buy all the cool TV series from the US. They only cost 2USD per episode. Buying would not be a problem, if they were on sale on iTunes in Europe. Another problem is where money goes: in Italy the artist only gets a very small amount for its music. Or now SIAE asked all the movie sites to pay for publishing movie trailers that contain music: this last is obviously done just to get money, because it goes againt both the site owner and the owner of the rights of the movie (which was getting free publicity for its movie). I think thanks to you Europe might really be a leader in fields like that, now the problem is to convince all the old-thinking CEO of companies and other politicians that this is for the good of EU.
  • The whole sentiment of this post is self evidently true, current copyright models are not working well in the digital era, and in any case don't serve grass roots artists or consumers, only global media companies. Anyone can see that, but the hard question is what do we replace it with? Strong, clearly workable policies to put artists and consumers back in charge are the only things that will have a chance of standing up to sustained lobbying by the cash rich media monopolies. If we do nothing or have weak ideas then we will get an abomination like SOPA currently playing out in the US as media companies buy bad laws for their own benefit and to the detriment of society. So the question is: what is the best model for copyright reform?
  • Rob, I agree with you. But, I think the solution isnt legal but technological. The Internet is lacking true regionality. The increase in identification online  with firms like google and facebook and etc. are growing the need for more compartmentalization and not merely in terms of logging in. New spaces are needed. I ponder a smaller regional internet, which is proprietary in its layouts and not as global in its range. copyrights are not protected in the current internet but soon, identities will not be either, a newsubinternet is needed. 
  • Two things come to my mind: 1) just cut on the protection time ... it is obscene that Walt Disney's heirs are still collecting royalties on a picture which was created in 1928. And yes I am saying it as a potential heir of a famous Czech artist, so I would loose money on this myself. But I think that protection over 20 years since publication (or something in that range) is immoral. 2) membership in the ransom royalties collecting agencies should be completely voluntary and multiple agencies competing in one line of art should be allowed. Currently a Czech collecting agency we have to deal with most (and I won't name it) is probably the most corrupt organization closest to the true criminal racket we have in our country. When people who are collecting for themselves millions of crowns (that's actually a different agency) publish a brochure on glossy paper with letters from six years old pupils thanking them for allowing to sing a fifty years old song in their school show, I want to vomit. These guys don't even understand how awful this feels and they publish this about themselves.
  • I will answer the question in the first paragraph: I feel I express the sentiment of the majority of European citizens when I say that the Copyright system Today serves a totally different purpose than it's original concept : to serve innovation and expand culture. Today we see corporations using copyright to amass huge fortunes. Today we see our rights diminished ever so frequently in this digital world. A simple example, in the world of physical, I could lend a book to my friend. In this digital age, if I make a copy of that e-book and lend it to my friend, I have committed a crime. But most important is that most of us, honest citizens, break IP laws every day in our digital lives. Copyright and IP touch us more and more and for me at least, everyday of my life ( from opening the TV to starting the mp3 player, to looking for a book) has at least one event connected with copyright law. Most of us see the copyright duration as unfair. Why do we have patents lasting for 20 years while copyright last way more than the life of the author ? It is just common sense that a dead author will not produce new works. I hear China filtering the internet, I hear that the USA is trying to do the same with new filtering laws named SOPA / PIPA. I still hope that we will return to common sense at some point.    
  • But , adrian, what solutions do you present? I agree with your statement of problems. But, what is the solution? I have an idea, another internet. filtering out the internet is a far more complicated and security riddled problem than providing another space, what yo do you think
  • Oh, finally an eu politican speaks the truth   kroes <3
  • When I think of the European Commission presidents words and your own, it seems to me the solution is a technology comparative. You mentioned Netflix or Itunes. Well, Belgium has computer programmers, why didnt any programmers build a belgium version?What is troubling about Europe in terms of online tech firms is the absence of European variants? China has variants to NEtflix, Itunes, Google, and etc. The home grown variant in Europe is what is missing. As for copyright, I think for copyright to work security wise, proprietary technologies must be created. In that sense, I think Europe must develop its own internet, not to compete with the world wide web as much as to offer a place for different technologies that are technically harder to produce in the current internet.
  • I cannot agree more with you. Copyright, in one front, and software patents in the other (especially in U.S.A., where their use is so aberrant that is almost comic) are now a huge load against XXI Century innovation, both in the marketing systems and in IT/Internet-related possibilities. Let's not talk about patenting genes, too.
  • Firstly, I am a scientist, and I feel copyright is highly unfair. As I scientist you do not get any profit from your discoveries (which I really find right; you get paid from institutions a salary to obtain them). Then Engineers can make patents and get rewards for 20 years for things that change the live of the people. And finally artist get really long copyrights so the can contribute just once in live and be some of the richest persons in the world. On the other hand, I do have a patent, and the problem in Europe is that it is really expensive to pay for the patent in all the countries. Indeed it is cheaper to pay for a patent in USA, than for just one country in Europe. And note that USA is a big market while in Europe you will have again problems when comercialicing your product. Finally, if you speak of computer games, it is gets cracy, as there is no way to register them (at least in Spain). You have to register the art, the code, etc.
  • One way to address this is registration. It's sometimes called "the elephant in the room for copyright", but think of it. If we make copyright dependent on registration, we solve a great number of issues: - we can easily compare whether there is infringement - we can eliminate the "iTunes" middleman - we can liberate orphan works - we can ensure that stuff that is truly under copyright is properly identified, traced, etc - the owner can set a fee at which it is downloadable - obviously, it must be on-line and free Don't forget: people actually WANT to pay an honest fee for use - but very often it's not available, and the fee is too high because of middle-men. If we register, those problem can also much more easily be solved. We keep/enhance payment to the creators, cut out the useless monopolistic middle men, increase legal security, create traceability, improve availability, and free up orphans. It would be a great step towards a solution. (more of this on my blog at
  • This comment is not available in your country. Learn more. Sorry about that.
  • I went through an exercise teaching kids about copyright. We learned that it is not possible to purchase music for private creative usage. I documented the process, illustrated with photos, please read my story from here: Children, Creativity and Culture - When CopyRight = CopyWrong
  • Why visitors still use to read news papers when in this technological world all is existing on net?
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