27th Jun 2019


McCreevy swings toward computer lobby on digital rights

The European Commission's upcoming memo on "private copy levies" looks set to come down on the side of computer companies instead of artists, single market commissioner Charlie McCreevy signalled in a speech at a Creative Rights conference in Brussels on Wednesday (29 November) hosted by Blueprint Partners and EUobserver.

Private copy levies are a system in 20 out of 25 EU member states that see artists' "collecting societies" or trade unions skim a fee off the price of any DVD recorder, MP3 player and blank disk sold on the legal basis these will be used to make unlicensed private copies, with Brussels set to issue a legal "recommendation" on the issue next month.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • McCreevy (r) - seeking a "delicate balance" but showing more sympathy for business concerns (Photo: EUobserver)

"We are concerned that the operation of some current schemes for fair compensation may be disruptive to trade in the internal market...and whether full account is being taken of the increased use of technological means to protect copyrighted works," the commissioner said, echoing the arguments of computer firms that want the €1.6 billion a year levies regime scrapped.

"We also feel that greater clarity and accountability in how these funds are managed and distributed would be greatly in the interests of all concerned," he added, in what sounds like the computer lobbyists' portrait of artists' collecting groups as an out-of-date, unprofessional bunch that stand in the way of a multi-billion euro digital arts industry.

The commissioner's remark that "where a rightsholder suffers harm as a result of the private copying exception, they should be compensated" also recognised one of the central arguments of the computer companies - that artists' groups have not legally demonstrated that private copies cause "harm" in line with the 2001 EU copyright directive.

Referring back to an earlier recommendation in October 2005 - that record labels should be able to get pan-EU digital music licences from any of the 25 EU member states artists' trade unions instead of separate licences for each country - Mr McCreevy added that "there are signs that the recommendation has had a positive effect."

The recommendation - a non-binding legal tool that gives guidance to stakeholders on what the commission would like to see or may legislate on in future - has already seen artists' societies in the UK and Germany break ranks with European colleagues by granting pan-EU licences for their Anglo-American music repertoire to EMI, one of the world's largest record labels.

The European Parliament is pushing Mr McCreevy to in future propose a binding directive on how to manage EU digital rights to take account of the explosive growth in online music and video sales, but the commissioner praised the softer "recommendation" approach while promising to keep the case "under review."

Brussels has soul, too

Mr McCreevy's speech - delivered to over 200 players from all sides of the spectrum including Yahoo's global head for digital music Robert Roback and Danish songwriter and artists' rights campaigner Pia Raug - also addressed artists' fears that giving the market free rein could see big business push mainstream musical "products" while suffocating smaller creative outfits.

"I am very sensitive to the cause of cultural diversity and to the particular needs of small member states and their creative artists," the former Irish finance minister, known for his free market-oriented philosophy, stated, citing his respect for artists who "help human beings make sense of the world" and who "need bread as well as roses to survive."

But his remarks on "striking a delicate balance" between protecting cultural diversity and releasing digital market potential took a swipe at artists' groups worries over big business, saying "There are some who pit culture against commerce. Who see any change as a zero-sum game. Such simplistic arguments are as damaging as they are wrong."

The 57-year old commissioner also displayed knowledge of digital jargon such as "long-tailing" - the practice of putting back catalogues of music online - and new trends such as free-video website YouTube and the rise of music and video content on mobile phones, while poking fun at himself as a man "driven mad by some of the more irritating ring-tones" downloaded these days.

Artists' trade unions must change

He confessed the pace of change in technology and "new ways to enjoy content" has left Brussels policy-makers "working hard to keep up" with the digital "revolution" that is set to see music downloads in Europe grow into a €3.9 billion market by 2011, when one out of every three songs bought is predicted to come off the web.

But Mr McCreevy's central message - that Europe should stop "looking on change with profound suspicion" and that the 150-year old network of artists' trade unions should be more "open to change" - indicates that recent pleas from singers like Robin Gibb or filmakers such as Pedro Almodovar to protect the status quo have not found favour in Brussels.

"Policy-makers have a responsibility to listen to different viewpoints and to consider matters in the round. But eventually, we have to reach a point of decision and to act," Mr McCreevy stated.

Pressure mounts on EU cloud deal as deadline looms

The European Commission is under pressure to keep to its self-imposed September deadline to publish an EU cloud computing strategy, as new evidence revealed widespread public confusion about it.

News in Brief

  1. EU warns Turkey as 'Gezi Park' trials begin
  2. EU universities to share students, curricula
  3. Migrant rescue ship loses Human Rights Court appeal
  4. Denmark completes social democrat sweep of Nordics
  5. Johnson offers 'do or die' pledge on Brexit
  6. Weber indirectly attacks Macron in newspaper op-ed
  7. EU to sign free trade deal with Vietnam
  8. EU funding of air traffic control 'largely unnecessary'

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  4. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  6. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  7. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  8. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  9. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate

Latest News

  1. EU moves to end car-testing 'confidentiality clause'
  2. EU parliament gives extra time for leaders on top jobs
  3. Europe's rights watchdog lifts Russia sanctions
  4. EU-Vietnam trade deal a bad day for workers' rights
  5. EU 'special envoy' going to US plan for Palestine
  6. Polish judicial reforms broke EU law, court says
  7. EU study: no evidence of 'East vs West' food discrimination
  8. Russia tried to stir up Irish troubles, US think tank says

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  2. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  3. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  6. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  11. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  12. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us