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21st Apr 2019

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EU copyright reforms kicked into 2016

  • Commission initiatives on access to foreign content out of step with public opinion (Photo: Alessio Milan)

The European Commission appears to be postponing key reforms of the EU's fragmented copyright system, according to a leaked paper.

The document is a draft, non-legislative strategy paper titled “Towards a modern, more European copyright framework”, and was published on a blog, IPKat, by intellectual property law scholar Eleonora Rosati last week.

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It is undated, but internal references indicate it was written after August.

According to the introduction, the text “sets out how the Commission intends to achieve the goal of ‘a more modern, more European copyright framework’.”

It says “the commission considers it necessary to: inject more single market and, where warranted, a higher level of harmonisation into the current EU copyright rules, particularly by addressing aspects related to the territoriality of copyright; [and] where required, adapt copyright rules to new technological realities so that the rules continue to meet their objectives.”

However, the Commission is planning to accompany the final version of strategy with just two legislative proposals. They are expected to be published before the end of the year.

The proposals announced in the paper include one on “portability” of online content, i.e. the ability to watch in other EU countries streamed television series to which you have a subscription in your home country.

The other is a proposal to implement the Marrakesh Treaty, which was signed in June 2013, and which aims to increasing opportunities for people with visual impairments.

EU countries already asked the Commission last March “to submit, without delay, a legislative proposal to amend the EU legal framework so that it complies with the Marrakesh Treaty."

For most of the other copyright-related reforms, the Commission says only that legislative proposals might or might not come next year, despite a previous promise by Estonian digital commissioner Andrus Ansip that “one of our top priorities in 2015 is to modernise EU copyright rules.”

In a hint of what may come, the leaked paper states that “the commission is assessing options and will consider legislative proposals for adoption in spring 2016 aiming at: Enhancing cross-border distribution of television and radio programmes online via the possible extension of some of the provisions of the Satellite and Cable Directive to broadcasters' online transmissions.”

The same language is used for possible new rules on giing legal certainty for researchers, teachers, and other public interest groups which carry out text and data mining.

“As regards the legal framework for the enforcement of intellectual property rights, including copyright, the commission will assess options and consider the need to amend the legal framework by autumn 2016,” the paper notes.

It is not the first delay in the copyright file, for which German EU digital commissioner Guenther Oettinger is responsible.

At the beginning of the year, a detailed proposal on copyright reform was expected before the Summer.

In May, Oettinger and his superior, commission vice-president Ansip, presented their strategy for a Digital Single Market. The strategy paper promised “legislative proposals for a reform of the copyright regime” before the end of 2015.

With the two legislative proposals discussed in the leaked paper, the promise may technically still be fulfilled.

But it is likely to disappoint stakeholders and citizens waiting for a clean-up of the EU's patchwork of copyright rules.

Who wants this?

One may also wonder whether the “portability” of online content – films, music, e-books – is the most pressing copyright issue in Europe.

“When people travel to another member state, they frequently cannot access content they have subscribed to or acquired at home (i.e. the content is not ‘portable’),” the paper says, referring to a recently published survey of EU citizens.

But what the text omits, is that the same survey showed the vast majority of European citizens don’t care if their content is portable or not.

Seventy five percent of those responding to the survey, said they never tried to access an online subscription while in another EU member state.

Ten percent said they did, and had no problem.

Those who try to access content from other member states, while at home, are also a minority.

When asked what type of foreign content they ever tried to access, 89 percent had never bothered.

“Would you like to access audio visual content (e.g. films, series, TV content, sports), music, e-books, or games available in other EU member states?”, was another question.

Just 15 percent said Yes.

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