The German politician nominated as the new digital economy and society Commissioner of the European Union (EU) has vowed to start work right away on drafting a new EU copyright law, calling existing legislation "out of date".
Günther Oettinger, who is currently EU energy commissioner, told MEPs at a European Parliament hearing in Brussels last night (Monday 29th September), that if confirmed in his role, copyright would be "one of the most difficult proposals we will deal with."
The draft law would take into account the challenges posed by digital technology while balancing the interests of creators and consumers, he said. He said: “We will have to think about cultural and economic interests and take them all into account,” adding that this would amount to “walking a tightrope” in policy terms.
The existing legislation was “out of date” he said, and “does not fit with the digital world,” and the new proposal would focus especially on who has rights to works held in digital storage. “We will make sure we have a market for cultural goods,” he stressed. That said, Oettinger signalled there would a bottom line in terms of copyright protection for works released onto the internet. There should be “strong protection” for copyright holders, so that writers and publisher were “encouraged to put intellectual products on the internet.” He wanted creators to plan to live off copyright works in the future: “We need to make it clear who owns a right,” he said.
It was revealed earlier this month that responsibility for copyright policy was being moved in Jean-Claude Juncker's new Commission from its previous home in the Internal Market & Services Directorate General to the directorate for the digital economy. Fears had been expressed in the book trade that such a move would promote the interests of the internet service providers rather than those of publishers. Oettinger's statement also follows an EC consultation on reviewing copyright law held earlier this year which revealed "a great diversity of views" among stakeholders.
Speaking last night, Oettinger also said he wanted to see a single digital economy regulator for the EU, and in the meantime would ensure that the existing 28 national regulators for internet-based and telecoms services be closely coordinated. The German Christian Democrat added he supported the use of public subsidies for cultural works. And he stressed the need to boost the availability of products that could tap into the growing market of older consumers.
The commissioner-nominee said he supported the framing of global agreements on data protection, to ensure no hiding place for confidential material that could be made available through the net. And he also backed the proposal made by the EU’s outgoing justice commissioner Viviane Reding for an EU "right to be forgotten"online, where citizens could demand personal information with no public interest be removed from the web.
He added that he anticipated smooth cooperation with the nominated Commission vice-president Andrus Ansip, of Estonia, who will have a broader responsibility for the digital market across the EU, with responsibility for reducing barriers to commerce between the 28 member states.
MEPs will next week consider whether to confirm Oettinger in his job, for a five-year term of office to commence on 1st November. It is expected that he will receive their support.
The development came on the same day that Richard Mollet, chief executive of the Publishers Association, called for the government to stand up for intellectual property businesses at home and in Europe.
Appearing on a panel at the Conservative party conference in Birmingham, with IP minister Baroness Neville-Rolfe, Mollet said a future conservative government should stop the carousel of reviews into the IP framework and work with industry to ensure children understand the value of creativity and intellectual property.
"We know from our members that IP is the most important area of policy. This is true across the creative industries," he said. "We need the government to stand up for IP businesses, at home and in Europe, to commit to funding the Police IP Crime Unit, mirroring industries' own investment in enforcement, and support our efforts to instil education about copyright in the national curriculum."