EC: copyright White Paper delays due to 'great diversity of views'

EC: copyright White Paper delays due to 'great diversity of views'

The European Commission is to take "a few more weeks" to finalise its White Paper on the review of EU copyright rules because of "the great diversity of views among stakeholders", an EC spokesperson has said.

The statement to The Bookseller came following reports that the White Paper had been put on hold altogether following disagreements over its direction between EC Vice-President Michel Barnier and Neelie Kroes, Commissioner for the Digital Agenda, said to favour a more radical approach.

The White Paper, originally due for publication this summer, was intended to follow on from a public consultation asking for feedback on questions to do with "reforming" copyright for a digital single market. The consultation ran from December 2013 to March 2014 and all responses – including many from the UK - are now available to view on the consultation website in anonymised form.

A newly published summary report on the consultation, which groups the responses according to type, shows starkly polarised views on some copyright issues raised in the consultation.

For example, the "vast majority" of consumers consider that the current term of copyright should be shortened, the report said. Consumers say long terms of copyright are a burden to innovation and increase prices, arguing that it is "a matter of general public interest" to ensure wider access to works in the public domain. But equally the "vast majority" of authors and performers  and "many" respondents in the publisher/producer/broadcaster category consider the term of protection currently set out in EU law is appropriate and shouldn't be shortened, with some even arguing it should be lengthened, to better reflect longer life expectancy.    

Another issue addressed in the consultation was the online resale of digital content, with consumers reporting "facing restrictions when trying to resell digital files that they had purchased", but authors considering "that a legal framework which would enable the resale of digital content would have serious negative consequences for the market" and print publishers "generally against any legislative intervention in this area."   

In another example, the "vast majority" of consumers asked whether they had faced problems when trying to access content services across borders, said they had done so – whereas "very often, authors and performers argue, there is no demand for cross-border services and therefore no business case for service providers." Meanwhile book publishers "generally do not see a need for changes to the EU copyright rules."

A leaked version of the EC's draft White Paper – which must be agreed by member states before being finalised - has been circulating online. However an EC spokesperson told The Bookseller, "Work is still in progress and the text is not finalised at all."

Liber, the blog of the Association of European Research Libraries, claimed: "Neelie Kroes, the European Commissioner for the digital agenda, who is bent on breaking down barriers to an EU-wide digital market, has marshalled opposition inside the Commission to Michel Barnier’s paper, which she considers to be insufficiently ambitious."

The EC spokesperson said: "The public consultation on the review of EU copyright rules resulted in an exceptional level of interest with 11,000 responses. These contributions highlighted a great diversity of views among stakeholders. This is a key area in terms of growth and employment for the Single Market to which the Commission has paid particular attention.

"It is important to pursue an ambitious and balanced strategy that promotes innovation and creativity in the Single Market and ensures a fair distribution of remuneration among all stakeholders throughout the value chain.

"The Commission has therefore decided to take a few more weeks to finalise a White Paper which reflects the right balance."

Richard Mollet, chief executive of the Publishers Association, told The Bookseller: “We support the efforts of Commissioner Barnier in ensuring that the European copyright framework remains one which rewards creators and content businesses.  It is misguided to think that loosening copyright rules in favour of a small number of US-based platforms companies will benefit European businesses or consumers and aid the delivery of a European digital single market.  If the choice is between a white paper which is harmful for British creators and no white paper at all, we should hope for the latter."