Richard Mollet, c.e.o of The Publishers Association, has said it is a “relief” to see the European Commission “beginning to appreciate the need to move carefully and proportionately when proposing changes to copyright law”, after the release of the latest EC proposals yesterday (9th December).
The main thrust of the proposals involved customers being able to access online services providing e-books, films, music and sports broadcasts which they subscribe to in their home country right across the European Union.
However at the same time, the EC published an action plan to “gradually” modernise copyright rules in the European Union, saying it will allow for some country exceptions. It has confirmed it intends in the long term a "full harmonisation of copyright in the European Union", but says it is currently "too early" to consider this.
The Digital Single Market Strategy proposed to allow European citizens to travel across borders while still having access to their digital content through services such as Netflix, Sky Sports, Spotify and e-books. This “cross-border portability” will become a new EU right for consumers and is expected to become reality by 2017.
“At present, Europeans travelling within the EU may be cut off from online services providing films, sports broadcasts, music, e-books or games that they have paid for in their home country,” a spokesperson for the EC said. “Today's proposed regulation on the cross-border portability of online content services addresses these restrictions in order to allow EU residents to travel with the digital content they have purchased or subscribed to at home.”
The problems are greatest in film and TV services, the EC acknowledged, and less relevant to e-books or music, but it said: "Restrictions [for e-books and music] in the future cannot be excluded, that is why today's rules are also important for such services."
John McVay, chief executive of Pact - a trade association representing the commercial interests of UK independent television, film, digital, children’s and animation media companies - said: "The commission’s proposals to mandate cross border access to digital content remain a significant concern for producers, distributors and broadcasters of film and TV content in the UK and across the EU. Any intervention that undermines the ability to license on an exclusive territorial basis will lead to less investment in new productions and reduce the quality and range of content available to consumers.”
The Authors’ Group weclomed the commission's "sensible" approach, but also warned the drive for portability "shall not question" the territoriality of copyright. It said: "The Authors’ Group wishes to emphasize that the principles of territoriality of copyright shall not be questioned. The authors’ future, especially in the audio-visual sector, fully depend on new productions, which rely largely on territorial licensing."
At the same time, the commission has outlined its “vision” of a modern EU copyright framework to be achieved in “gradual steps” and taking into account input from several public consultations over the next six months.
Overall, the EC made it clear it wants to make sure that Europeans can access a “wide legal offer of content while ensuring that authors and other rights holders are better protected and fairly remunerated.”
At the same time, it acknowledged that the national differences in terms of copyright posed “problems in particular for those exceptions that are closely related to education, research and access to knowledge” and has said it would “make relevant exceptions mandatory for member states to implement and ensure that they function across borders within the EU”.
The EC’s action plan for copyright intends to create exceptions for copyright-protected works to be used, in defined circumstances, without prior authorisation from the rights holders. In spring 2016 it will focus its work on clearer exceptions to be applied across the EU to make it easier for researchers to use text and data mining technologies and to "support" teachers with their online courses. “Teachers who give online courses should be subject to better and clearer rules, that work across Europe,” the EC said. The exceptions to be introduced will also help people with disabilities to access more works.
However, perhaps showing the influence of book industry lobbying, the EC also said it wanted "a copyright environment that stimulates investment in creativity", stating - rather vaguely - that "proper solutions to achieve this objective" would be proposed.
Richard Mollet of the PA said: “The commitment that the proposals will take into account relevant market situations and licensing practices is particularly very welcome. However, the commission must provide further information on what they mean by ‘public interest research organisation’ in relation to text and data mining. This is an incredibly broad term which could encompass many commercial businesses who are well able to pay for licences, and in fact already do so.”
He added: “Changes to legislation should only ever be a last resort and must be backed by robust evidence of market failure. However, it remains unclear how this approach can fit with the stated general objective of increasing the level of harmonisation. This apparent tension is something we will be discussing closely with the UK government as it shapes its own response.”
The Authors' Group added: "It must be taken into consideration that weakening the exclusive rights will result in a loss of income to authors, less value for the cultural and creative industries and ultimately a diminishing European repertoire of cultural works of music, literature and film."
A spokesperson for The Federation of European Publishers, said publishing was one of the biggest success stories of the digital age.
“With digital publishing, we are now able to offer tailor-made licences to answer the needs of our users, whether they are individuals, schools or libraries. Hence, the exceptions suggested in the communication will need to be carefully assessed so they don’t prejudice the normal exploitation of the works and still allow the production of high-quality and diverse content.”
The EC has also said it intends to fight piracy and “make sure that copyright is properly enforced across the EU”.
To this end, in 2016, it will work on a European framework to "follow-the-money" and cut the financial flows to businesses which make money out of piracy. It also intends to improve EU rules on the enforcement of intellectual property rights and has launched a public consultation on the evaluation and modernisation of the existing legal framework today.
Prime minister David Cameron said that the UK has been driving for the change in regulations.
“The UK has been pushing for a digital single market that delivers for consumers across the EU,” he said. “People who have paid for movies or sport subscriptions at home want to be able to use them across Europe. These proposals deliver just that, and show how UK leadership can secure a flexible single market that works for EU consumers and businesses. I look forward to swift agreement on these proposals.”