EC Calls For European Copyright Revamp

neelie kroes

European Commission vice president Neelie Kroes has argued that current copyright system is not working

A radical overhaul of the copyright system may be needed in order to allow the economic benefits of new technologies such as cloud computing to be fully exploited, according to the European Commission’s vice president for the digital agenda, Neelie Kroes.

Kroes’ comments come amidst calls by British businesses for a more flexible copyright model within the UK.

New technologies

She said that while new technologies can help bolster the role of creative works in economic growth, copyright laws are currently too rigid to allow the technical possibilities to be fully exploited.

“Look at cloud computing: it presents a totally new way of purchasing, delivering and consuming cultural works – music, books, films – which will certainly raise new questions about how licensing should function in an optimal way,” Kroes said on Saturday.

She spoke at the Forum d’Avignon conference, which looks at bringing together culture, media, technology and economy.

Kroes said that while the expansion of US content distribution systems such as Neflix and iTunes in Europe causes alarm for some, organisations and lawmakers should embrace the possibilities such technologies offer.

“In times of change, we need creativity, out-of-the-box thinking: creative art to overcome this difficult period and creative business models to monetise the art,” Kroes said. “For this we need flexibility in the system, not the straitjacket of a single model. The platforms, channels and business models by which content is produced, distributed and used can be as varied and innovative as the content itself.”

Meanwhile, the current model does not work, Kroes argued. The creative sector is essential for Europe’s continued economic growth and its image abroad, she said.

Failure on piracy

However, the system is failing to stem piracy, or give economic stimulus to those who produce creative works, while ordinary people have come to see copyright restrictions as arbitrary and oppressive.

“We need to keep on fighting against piracy, but legal enforceability is becoming increasingly difficult; the millions of dollars invested trying to enforce copyright have not stemmed piracy,” Kroes said. “Meanwhile citizens increasingly hear the word copyright and hate what is behind it. Sadly, many see the current system as a tool to punish and withhold, not a tool to recognise and reward. Speaking of economic reward: if that is the aim of our current copyright system, we’re failing here too.”

Kroes argued the ICT sector should lead the way toward a better system, noting that technology is already helping connect creators with audiences in new ways.

She said more technology could result in a system that is more flexible and has more benefits for everyone involved.

“ICT can help in other ways too, supporting a system of recognition and reward,” she said. “A Global Repertoire database to find out what belongs to whom. Tracking technologies, to permit a totally transparent process for artists and intermediaries to find out who is looking at what artwork when and to distribute revenues accordingly. Digitisation, to make artworks available for instant transmission to distant fans.”

The legal model behind such a system should also follow ICT’s lead, developing in a flexible, open-ended way, Kroes said.

“We need to create a framework in which a model – or indeed several models – can develop organically, flexibly,” she said.

UK overhaul

In July, London’s Tech City – the government-backed area known as Silicon Roundabout, intended to rival Silicon Valley – called on the British government to overhaul the UK’s outdated copyright laws.

The call was made in an open letter to Prime Minister David Cameron and the Coalition Government. The British firms urged the government to implement the IP law reforms recommended in the report compiled by Professor Ian Hargreaves of Cardiff University, which was released in April this year.

In that report, Professor Hargreaves offered ten recommendations on how to bring the UK’s outdated laws in line with today’s digital era. He stated that if his conclusions were introduced it could add up to £7.9 billion to the UK’s economy and cut the cost of IP-related business by £750 million within a decade.

His recommendations were strongly backed by a number of tech residents of the London ‘Silicon Roundabout’ in their open letter. The group includes the likes of the British Computing Society (BCS), Coadec (The Coalition for a Digital Economy), TechHub, Bootlaw and the BIMA.

Among the recommendations Professor Hargreaves suggested is the establishment of a “digital copyright exchange,” where licences in copyright content can be bought and sold. This will make market transactions “faster, more automated and cheaper,” and should make it easier to resolve disputes without costly litigation.

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