European Commission VP Kroes Urges Open Internet, Prods Copyright Owners

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Neelie Kroes, European Commission vice-president responsible for the digital agenda, today told a parliamentary committee that more choices for copyrighted content, cloud computing, internet freedom, and cybersecurity are key to European values and its economy.

Kroes, speaking to the Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) Committee, highlighted several ways to keep the internet open. These include take-up of – and common standards for – cloud computing across the Union, and improvements in copyright, including the possibility of new legislation.

On cloud strategy, she said the Commission is anticipating a upcoming report by Pilar del Castillo, a Member of Parliament from Spain.

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).

But she offered a warning: “I am not keen on legislation if more pragmatic, easier and less heavy-handed solutions are available. But we are also working on modernisation through legislation – particularly if Licences for Europe fails to deliver.”

Other areas of openness include in making public sector information available, and stronger security online.

“[N]ever forget openness and freedom also depend on security,” she said. “You cannot be open online, nor free, if you are constantly at risk of hacking, spying, or identity theft.” Kroes pitched a Commission proposal on “eIdentification” that she said “will make it easier for people to prove they are who they say they are – helping them transact securely and conveniently, and opening up a whole world of services across the single market.”

She also urged progress on a cybersecurity strategy put to Parliament in February. “Cybersecurity should be a top political priority for us all,” she said. “I hope Parliament can make rapid progress: so the Directive on Network and Information Security can still be adopted during this mandate.”

“This openness matters to our single market. The world is going digital: and we have a choice,” she said. “We can continue to have barriers to online trade and innovation; barriers we’ve spent decades bringing down elsewhere. Or we can ensure a new online home for our single market: vibrant, unified, open.”

She also took a swipe at governments seen as attempting to increase control of the internet, such as through the United Nations.

“Here in the EU we recognise the values and virtues of openness. And we recognise the benefits are not just economic, but also for freedom of expression and democracy,” she said. “Yet not every country around the world shares those values. That’s something we have seen in international meetings around the world, from the IGF in Baku to the WCIT in Dubai.” Background on the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) and World Conference on International Communication (WCIT) is here (IPW, Information and Communications Technology, 19 November 2012).

“[U]ltimately, some are in favour of more government control. If they win the debate, the risk is that the Internet fragments. And then we would lose the benefits of a single, open, global network,” she said. “That’s why we should continue to uphold the EU’s values. And to support an open, multi-stakeholder model for Internet governance.”

Link to Kroes’ remarks here.

William New may be reached at wnew@ip-watch.ch.

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