European Commission Launches Copyright Licensing Initiative

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The European Commission has launched an initiative called “Licences for Europe” aimed at promoting copyright licences, as a next step in maintaining traditional copyright in light of new digital technologies.

Europeans “need content. Rich, vibrant online content is a big part of that digital economy,” Neelie Kroes, vice-president of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda, said in a speech announcing the initiative on 4 February in Brussels. “[T]hat’s what ‘Licences for Europe’ is about – helping you capture all the benefits of a connected, competitive continent. Ultimately, I want Europeans to enjoy a wide choice of lawful digital content, wherever they are: and for that content to be rewarded.”

“So we are launching this initiative to show technology and copyright can go together,” she said. She predicated the initiative on her past message to the copyright industry that it must change to meet the digital age, not the other way around. She pointed to Spotify in Sweden as an adaptation that has led to almost no music piracy in that country.

Kroes spoke at the start of a “stakeholder dialogue” on copyright “Licences for Europe.” More information is available here.

The initiative struck a negative chord with knowledge access advocates, particularly as the makeup of the dialogue appears to be stacked with industry interests.

“Instead of planning for a broad reform that would break away with full-on repression of cultural practices based on sharing and remixing, the Commission is setting up a parody of a debate,” the French non-governmental group La Quadrature du Net said in a release. “75% of the participants to the working-group concerning ‘users’ are affiliated with the industry and the themes and objectives are defined so as to ensure that the industry has its way and that nothing will change.”

“Through this initiative, the EU Commission shows its contempt of the many citizens who participated in defeating ACTA and are still mobilized against repressive policies,” the group said, calling it an “outrageous attempt to avoid copyright reform.”

Kroes made clear that licensing of copyrighted content is at the core of the initiative, but suggested that other outcomes could be possible.

“[N]ew licensing approaches for protected content will no doubt feature prominently in your discussions,” Kroes said. “We do not prejudge its outcome.”

“But keep your minds open: maybe in some cases licensing won’t be the solution,” she said. “Maybe it will be provided by technology and data, like the Global Repertoire Database or some wider initiative not yet on the table. This exercise will show us how far we can solve our issues within the current framework.”

There are other related initiatives underway in the Commission as well, including a look at collective rights management, and copyright reform.

William New may be reached at

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  1. […] On copyright, Kroes said in prepared remarks: “That’s an area where I’ve long called for change. I’m fed up hearing from people who cannot legally access the music and films they love; from artists who can’t reach the audiences they want; from scientists who can’t properly use modern research techniques.” That is the reason, she said, for the recent EU launch of the “Licences for Europe” programme (IPW, European Policy, 5 February 2013). […]

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