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14th Dec 2018

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Copyright file moves to pro-digital commissioner

  • Ansip (l) will take over Oettinger's portfolio, temporarily at least (Photo: European Commission)

European commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has tasked commissioner Andrus Ansip to temporarily take responsibility for the digital economy portfolio, which includes copyright reform.

Ansip will take over on 1 January 2017 from commissioner Guenther Oettinger, who moves on to the budget portfolio, the commission announced on Wednesday (21 December).

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Ansip was already partly responsible for the copyright file, as digital single market vice-president of the commission.

Copyright reform is a sensitive, heavily lobbied issue, on which Ansip and Oettinger expressed some differences of opinion, with Ansip showing more openness to the new digital era, while Oettinger has sided with current rights-holders of copyrighted content.

One source said Ansip had more eye for the interests of consumers than Oettinger.

Last year, for example, Ansip announced he would like to end all geo-blocking, which is the practice of limiting access to online services based on a user's location.

For some companies offering digital copyrighted content, geo-blocking is part of the business model.

To consumers, however, it can be a nuisance. Those who want to use BBC's iPlayer, for example, cannot do so outside of the United Kingdom.

Ansip has repeatedly spoken out against geo-blocking.

“I hate geo-blocking,” the Estonian commissioner has said several times, arguing that it should be banned.

Cultural diversity

In a March 2015 interview, Oettinger slightly mocked Ansip's remark on geo-blocking.

“I hate my alarm clock at five o'clock in the morning,” Oettinger said, noting that “we should protect our cultural diversity”.

Ansip himself has frequently played down the apparent diverging views between him and Oettinger.

“We were always able to find consensus with Gunther Oettinger,” he told journalists last month.

Ansip said it was a “simplification” to say they stood at two ends of a spectrum.

“There are different interests in our society. I think [EU] proposals will be much better if you take into account all those different interests.”

Damage already done

Julia Reda, a left-wing MEP from the German Pirate party, told this website in a written comment that Ansip has “shown much more understanding for the technological details of the portfolio” than Oettinger.

However, the legislative proposal for copyright reform was published in September. It was presented by Ansip and Oettinger together.

While the commission promised that access to online content would become easier, it did not ban geo-blocking altogether, as Ansip would have wanted.

Reda, wrote a report about copyright for the parliament last year.

Reda, who wants the copyright regime to be less strict, hopes Anip will be "more open" to take her side, but said she doubted that Ansip would be able to change the file significantly.

“The commission's opportunity to present a real modernisation and harmonisation of the copyright regime has been missed, so despite the reshuffle in the commission, the damage is done,” she said.

It is now up to the European Parliament and member states to say how they want to amend it.

Oettinger's portfolio becomes available because the German will take over the budget and human resources portfolio from Kristalina Georgieva, who has taken a job at the World Bank.

It is unclear who Bulgaria will send to replace Georgieva, and which portfolio this new Bulgarian commissioner will be responsible for.

EU commissioners at odds over geo-blocking

EU digital commissioner Andrus Ansip and his fellow commissioner Gunther Oettinger are at odds with one another over the need to abolish the practice of restricting online content based on someone's location.

EU targets Google in copyright reform

Publishers welcomed EU proposals for a new right that could see them take a bite out of Google's income, but some say the law could end up hurting Google's smaller rivals.

EP adopts 'watered down' copyright report

MEPs have adopted keenly-awaited proposals they'd like to see in the commission’s forthcoming copyright reform, but they were roundly criticised by all sides.

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