The first legislative communication on copyright reform, as part of the European Commisison's Digital Single Market (DSM) strategy, is due later today (December 9th) at 11am.
Coming in the form of the "Communication on the modernisation of the EU copyright rules”, the publication is expected to signpost the commission’s strategic direction on DSM. In the early days of this proposal, the commission had hinted towards pan-european licensing and a motion for single copyright registration. The overarching goal of EU harmonisation efforts is to promote freedom within the internal market for copyright protected goods and services.
Ahead of the EC's communication, Richard Mollet, c e.o of the Publishers Association, said: "If it’s not as bad as it could be now, there’s still work for us to do to make sure things stay on the rails.
"It's fine if the EC wants to bring in some form of harmonisation, but it should not go the whole way and say there should be the same rules for 28 members.”
Mollet said he had seen a "softening of language” on the subject from the commission of late, both in terms of individual meetings with commissioners and officials and from public statements, citing EU Digital Commissioner Günther Oettinger’s comments at the Frankfurt Book Fair in October as one such example. Oettinger said the EC had no plans to weaken copyright, but wanted "targeted" and "balanced" reform with concrete benefits for consumers and right holders.
It has also been revealed that the communication due later today was “leaked” last month, revealing a "commitment to ensure 'portability' of online content services", according to Tim Johnson, partner at law firm Fieldfisher. However, he stressed "the leak is in no way the final position". Cécile Despringre, executive director at the Society of Audiovisual Authors, said in response: "Right holders will be keener than ever to hear the commission guarantee that portability will not be used to circumvent territoriality".
Mollet added: "If what comes out tomorrow is pretty close to what was leaked, we would say that’s something we feel we can work with. But we need to seek clarification.
"Whilst we’re not entirely happy with the direction of travel I think there’s been some recognition that [the commission] can’t impose this single harmonised version of copyright on the market. We continue to argue they have to take note of what differences exist in different member state markets. We agree there should be more uniformity – greater harmonisation – but that doesn’t mean identical rules in every member state. Particularly what we’re talking about here are the rules surrounding photocopying of textbooks in schools.”
In Germany, the rules concerning what constitutes "educational use" is different to the UK, which relies on rules surrounding photocopying and reproduction for educational use, rather than classifying the work itself. Mollet said: "It sounds subtle and an unimportant difference but the fact is we’ve got our structures in the UK, our copyright licensing agencies – it’s all understood – and in Germany they’ve got their rules. If the commissioner is going to come along and say 'we want you to do the same', you’re either going to upset the UK or the German system. And many other remember states.”
"The initial rhetoric and aims of the programme had to be softened because it wouldn’t be a good outcome for Europe’s creative businesses, and indeed creative community and consumers," he added.
The communication later today is first step in what is expected to be a lengthy bureaucratic process wherein the European Parliament has the power to "heavily amend" proposals over a six - 9 month period.
Mollet said: "This is really the first ball coming over the net and there’s a long rally to follow."