Media: Battle on EU copyright law re-opened by Commission - EuropeanVoice

'Stakeholder dialogue' on controversial topic will begin in early 2013.

Dave Keating and Peter O'Donnell, EuropeanVoice, 06.12.2012

The European Commission has agreed to revisit the European Union's rules on copyright, opening up what promises to be a fierce lobbying battle between diverse vested interests.

The decision, announced yesterday after a debate within the college of European commissioners, amounts to a partial victory for Neelie Kroes, the European commissioner for the digital agenda, who has been pushing for substantial reform. Last night at a web conference in Paris, she said: “It's right that the EU acts.” She vowed to work “hand in hand” with fellow commissioners to improve copyright law.

Michel Barnier, the European commissioner for the single market and services, whose department has direct responsibility for copyright legislation, was particularly reluctant to be drawn into a review.

In July, he proposed an EU-wide law on collective copyright management for music, but that has not been enough to silence the demand for revisiting EU copyright law, whose central plank is the 2001 copyright directive.

The Commission announced yesterday that a “stakeholder dialogue” would begin in early 2013 on issues that the Commission considers need short-term attention. These include portability of copyright across borders, insufficient legal access inEuropeto television and film online, and harmonising copyright levies – the taxes imposed by 20 member states on blank disks or other devices that can copy music. The review, which will be co-led by Barnier, Kroes and Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou, whose remit includes film and television, will be completed by December 2013.

The Commission will assess the results of the dialogue and in 2014 will decide whether legislative proposals are appropriate. The second track of the review is that the Commission will conduct market studies, impact assessments and legal drafting work to support any eventual legislative initiatives.

Kroes has been pressing for an overhaul of the 2001 law, particularly to take into account the potential of a digital single market, but many in the Commission are scarred by the memory of earlier forays into intellectual property and new media. Charlie McCreevy, Barnier's predecessor, was defeated on the copyright levies proposal in 2007. The Commission was also defeated on a proposal for computer implemented inventions (software patents) in 2004.

Barnier's proposal has come under sharp attack from disappointed advocates of a single pan-EU licensing system. Legal music-sharing sites such as the Swedish site Spotify complain that expansion across the EU market is impeded by cumbersome copyright laws.

Liberal Dutch MEP Marietje Schaake said faster and more radical action was needed. “Changes should come sooner; it's already too late,” she said. “It's urgent that we keep the pressure on and are ambitious in our timelines.” BEUC, the European consumers' organisation, which also supports reform, interpreted the Commission's acknowledgement of the need for a review as a step towards deeper change. “Ambitious copyright reform is no longer a taboo,” said Monique Goyens, BEUC's director-general.

Artists, collecting societies that manage music rights, and the European film industry had been lobbying the Commission against changes that might limit “the right of authors to live their art and receive fair compensation”, according to an online petition. It was signed last month by thousands of members of the European film industry, including prominent directors such as Michel Hazanavicius of France, Ken Loach of Britain, Bela Tarr of Hungary and the Dardenne brothers of Belgium.

The European Writers Council, the Federation of European Publishers and the International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organizations wrote in a similar vein to José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission. Major trade associations in the electronic communications industry insisted this week that “the current regulatory framework already strikes the right balance amongst the different interests and does not require any modification”.

Helen Smith, executive chairwoman of Impala, which represents independent music producers, welcomed the Commission's cautious approach of conducting a review “properly and gradually”.