Oettinger promises 'balance' on copyright

Oettinger promises 'balance' on copyright

The European Commission has no plans to weaken copyright, but wants a "targeted" and "balanced" reform with concrete benefits for consumers and right holders, Gunther Oettinger, the member of the European Commission with responsibility for the Digital Economy and Society, told the Frankfurt Book Fair on Friday (16th October).

Concerns about the EC's copyright proposals were raised earlier at the Fair by Hachette Livre chief Arnaud Nourry, who at the FBF c.e.o. interview said the Digital Single Market was a major threat to the trade.

"Why Europe is attacking the only media and cultural industry where we are powerful [on a world stage] makes no sense," Nourry told the Fair.

Giving the keynote address at today's New European Media conference, Oettinger said he had heard concerns that the "modernisation" of copyright was "just a term that the Commission uses to disguise it real plans, namely to weaken copyright protection". But he insisted this was not the case, saying: "Copyright is the incentive to publishers to invest into new book projects. As any company, you need clear and reliable conditions for making business. You need it to make sure that you can pay lectors, graphic designers and marketing specialists. And only if you can invest into new projects will you be able to discover new talent. At the same time, copyright is also the safeguard that authors receive a fair remuneration.

"So let me stress that, if I talk about copyright modernisation, I am talking particularly about ways to preserve the incentive to the publisher to invest as well as the safeguard for the author."

However he warned of "legal uncertainty" within the EU because copyright law is only partially harmonised between the 28 states: "We have to make sure that there is more legal clarity for example for a researcher under which conditions he can do text and data mining. A teacher needs to have more legal clarity to be sure that he will not be made liable if he uses certain parts of text books also for online teaching courses. An archive should be in the position to clearly decide whether it may or may not digitise a book and make it available for a researcher or student by remote consultation.

"Our copyright rules have been drafted at a time where many of today's possibilities to discover, disseminate and share ideas and knowledge did not exist. In addition, both education and research are increasingly cross border activities and therefore highly relevant in the Digital Single Market."

The Commission will reveal a first package of "targeted" measures before the end of the year, he confirmed.

Oettinger, who did not take questions from publishers following the keynote, also referenced the EC's e-commerce investigation saying that a "comprehensive assessment of the role of platforms" had been launched following concerns about "a fair sharing of value in the platform economy".

He said: "There is a growing concern that the distribution of the value generated by certain service providers engaged in content distribution is skewed towards them. There is a growing concern that certain platforms are denying a fair remuneration to right holders. A well-functioning market place requires that right holders are in the position to negotiate and licence their exclusive rights. They need a fair share in the economic success of the services that distribute their content.

"I think we need to better how platforms function in order to reply to these questions and make informed and appropriate policy decisions on the interaction between platforms, news media and consumers."

The investigation is covering transparency, for example in platforms' usage of the information they collection, relations between platforms and suppliers, and users' ability to move from one platform to another through interoperability. Oettinger said this was not just an economic issue, but "an economic and societal issues... platforms do not only influence the way books are written, but in the end also the kind of books that we will read."