EU calls for radical copyright reform in light of internet’s disruption

Digital agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes

The European Commission (EC) has called for an urgent reform of copyright laws to ensure the internet economy continues to thrive.

Neelie Kroes, the vice president of the EC with responsibility for the digital agenda, issued the call for an improved local copyright system, when speaking at the Institute for Information Law in Amsterdam.

“Happy birthday to you all at the Institute for Information Law,” she said. “I would sing you ‘Happy Birthday‘. But technically I think the song is still under copyright – I don’t want to have to pay the royalty.”

Kroes said the song was a good example of why the EC needs to strike a balance between the “justified interests” of society and the rights of creators. She said technology has disrupted what has become an entrenched framework. This is a line oft-repeated by the EC VP.

“Today the debate about information, innovation, and intellectual property can be complex, personal, and heated. Transforming technology is changing how people use and re-use information. And disrupting a longstanding legal framework,” she said.

“Already today that framework seems dated – if not irrelevant. Every day that passes it becomes more so.”

Kroes made a number of recommendations, suggesting how a “sound” European copyright system should look.

She said that it must “promote creativity and innovation”, and “encourage and stimulate” work and development. It must also reward creators, Kroes added, explaining that currently the system attempts this, but falls short.

“The current copyright system does not do it well. Not nearly well enough. Many creators scrimp by on a pittance, unable to find their full audience, unable to share or sell their works as widely or creatively as they want. Limitations and obstructions do nothing for creativity,” she said.

“The legal framework needs to take account of the needs of society. Users’ interest and expectations matter alongside creators’ rights. Rules cannot be impractical, uncertain, or unreasonable for ordinary users.”

The current system means that many citizens break the law by doing things that should be considered commonplace said Kroes, and SMBs and scientists drop “innovative ideas” because of a lack of resources and the challenge of legal fees.

“The internet gives enormous opportunities for artists and consumers. More direct access to a wider audience, and a wider range of content. New ways to share, spread, sell,” she added.

“New ways to reward and recognise. New ways for audiences to appreciate – getting what they want, when they want it. A good copyright system would help us achieve that. Today’s does not.”

Kroes said that the local copyright system is fragmented, “irrelevant” and a “tool for obstruction, limitation and control”.

Finally, Kroes called for reform and an end to anachronistic regulation. “That digital single market needs copyright reform. The essential centrepiece. Otherwise it would not be credible, it would just be words,” she said.

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