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19th Apr 2019

MEP scuffle points to EU copyright controversy

  • The EU commission wants to modernise copyright (Photo: realSMILEY)

A scuffle over whether to invite a UN expert on copyright to address MEPs is illustrative of what a hot political topic copyright reform is in the EU.

Farida Shaheed, a Pakistani sociologist who wrote a report on copyright policy and the right to culture and science, will talk to MEPs on Wednesday (6 May) but her very invitation upset some.

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  • UN human rights rapporteur Farida Shaheed speaking via video-link in 2011 (Photo: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré)

French liberal MEP Jean-Marie Cavada, reportedly tried to stop Shaheed - who is the UN rapporteur for human rights - being invited because he felt a representative from the copyright industry should also be present to provide a counter-argument.

“[Cavada] was arguing that if she speaks, then also someone from the rights holders industry should speak”, German MEP Julia Reda from the Green group told a group of journalists on Monday (4 May).

“But she's not a lobbyist, she's the UN special rapporteur for human rights.”

When presenting her report on copyright to the UN's Human Rights Council in Geneva that month, Shaheed noted that “authors must be distinguished from copyright-holders”.

The report notes that “corporate right holders must not be presumed to speak for the interests of authors. Merely enacting copyright protection is insufficient to satisfy the human right to protection of authorship.”

Cavada was unable to be reached on Monday but other sources confirmed the dispute.

Shaheed was originally asked to speak in Brussels in March, but the event was delayed due to the internal wrangling. The official, who is based in Pakistan, will now speak via a video-link.

Reda, who is also the only deputy in the EP who is a member of the Pirate Party, has written a report on copyright reform, which will be voted on in the legal affairs committee in June.

The report is non-binding, but the Cavada case is an example of the kind of politics that surrounds the issue.

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has said his commission must modernise copyright “in the light of the digital revolution, new consumer behaviour and Europe's cultural diversity”.

Those comments, made shortly after he took up office in November, sparked a flurry of activity from rights holders and artists who fear the reforms will undermine copyright.

Response from Cavada

When this website asked Cavada's office for a comment on Monday, it was asked to send an e-mail with questions.

EUobserver did, but no reply came. Tuesday, after publication of this article, Cavada wrote this website an e-mail in which he said he had never received the e-mail from EUobserver.

Cavada denied that he tried to stop the invitation, or that he wanted a representative from the copyright industry to speak.

"I just asked our chair, Mr. Svoboda, to provide us with other names so as to find an expert capable of giving counter-arguments to Ms Shaheed, for the sake of objectivity", Cavada wrote.

Digital strategy

Shaheed will not be the only one speaking about copyright on Wednesday. Digital commissioner Andrus Ansip is set to present the commission's highly anticipated digital strategy on the same day.

According to a recent leaked draft, seen by this website, the strategy announced the commission “will make legislative proposals before the end of 2015 to reduce the differences between national copyright regimes”.

Specifically, there will be proposals to ensure “full portability of legally acquired content [and] … cross-border access to legally purchased online services while ensuring the financing of the audiovisual sector”.

This article was updated on Tuesday 5 May to include comments from MEP Jean-Marie Cavada.

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