EU Stakeholders Debate Copyright, Access And Artists In Digital Age 24/04/2009 by David Cronin for Intellectual Property Watch 4 Comments Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)BRUSSELS – Copyright should be abolished because it undermines cultural diversity, a Brussels conference has been told. Dutch academic Joost Smiers, author of the book Imagine! No Copyright, believes that modern intellectual property laws have enabled a small number of powerful firms to control the mass media in a way that is unhealthy for democracy. He contends that copyright has been used primarily to protect investments made by Hollywood, large record companies and media moguls, with almost no benefits accruing to the vast majority of artists. Smiers is urging that a two-pronged attack should be launched on what he termed “cultural conglomerates” such as the publishing and broadcasting empires linked to Rupert Murdoch and the Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, as well as the entertainment industry dominated by Walt Disney. Such an attack would involve both the scrapping of copyright and invoking antitrust law to insist that the relevant industries are no longer concentrated in so few hands. He pointed out that the United Nations universal declaration on human rights recognises that all individuals have the right to communicate and to participate in culture. “This right does not only belong to the CEOs of a few companies,” he added. “We should do things at the same time: abolish copyright and cut the cultural conglomerates into pieces,” he said. “At this moment of a financial crisis, we should not stop with reorganising financial markets but all markets.” Smiers was speaking at a conference on the future of intellectual property, held in Brussels on 23-24 April. Organised by the Goethe-Institut, a foundation promoting the German language and international cultural exchange, the event heard several speakers questioning the direction in which European law relating to intellectual property has been heading in recent years. Ruth Hieronymi, a German member of the European Parliament, voiced concern at how economic issues can be given greater emphasis than those pertaining to culture, democracy or consumer protection. Within the European Commission, the directorate-general (DG) taking the lead on copyright matters is the one responsible for the EU’s single market. Elected representatives in the Parliament generally take a broader view of the surrounding issues than the civil servants working in this key division in the EU’s executive arm, she said. “DG Internal Market is tasked with making sure the internal market works properly,” she noted. “It is not its task to deal with cultural diversity. To that extent, we have quite a conflict with the European Commission.” Hieronymi also suggested that one of the cornerstones of the EU’s laws on intellectual property, the 2001 Copyright Directive, is ill-suited for the internet age. “We don’t need to reinvent the wheel here but we do need to find new legislative directions for this area,” she said. “Online services are going to be by nature cross-border without getting licences for doing that because licences are mainly national at the moment,” she added. “If we don’t find a way of adapting international copyright and intellectual property rights to cross-border activities, then new models will develop of their own accord. At some point, these will become so anchored in the economy they will just carry on like that.” David Baervoets, an EU single market official, said that the Commission is studying the possibility of revising the 2001 copyright directive. Some 400 responses were received before a formal public consultation exercise on the subject closed in November last year. According to Baervoets, the debate on the directive has become “very polarised.” The most contentious issues involved relate to the exceptions from copyright that are provided for by the law. Under it, for example, libraries are granted leeway to make copies of material so that it can be preserved in archives. Copyright rules also can be waived to allow blind or visually-impaired people have access to material in Braille formats, in large print or as audio recordings. At present, these exceptions are of a voluntary nature, leaving it at the discretion of EU governments whether they should be granted. While some disability rights organisations and librarians are urging that the exceptions should be made mandatory, many book publishers are not in favour of doing so. The European Bureau of Library Information and Documentary Associations (EBLIDA) complains that the vast array of different contractual arrangements that publishers are seeking with libraries often eliminates the benefits of the exceptions. This is particularly so in the case of scientific books and journals, the publication of which is dominated by a handful of companies. EBLIDA representative Toby Bainton said that greater standardisation of licensing for publications is needed. “The EU institutions should have the courage to say that certain exceptions should be mandatory,” he added. Andreas Bogk from the Chaos Computer Club, an organisation of computer hackers, suggested that intellectual property should not be used to deny access to information. “Digital libraries should be places that I can access from anywhere in the world,” he said. “If I’m in Germany, why shouldn’t I be able to access a library in the UK? EU member states should be ensuring that our books and our knowledge is digitalised and stored and made available to all citizens. That’s something we can do.” But Anne Bergman from the Federation of European Publishers said her “ideal digital library would respect intellectual property rights.” Discussions need to be held to ascertain how the remuneration of authors can be guaranteed once more books are made available in electronic form, she added. “If tomorrow, all books sold in book shops can be accessed for free in [digital] libraries, I suspect that the book shops will close immediately,” she said. “The only way authors would be paid is through state aid. The Soviet regime had state financing for publishing. Is this what we want?” Danny O’Brien from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties group, said a “pragmatic solution” is required to the question of how artists will be paid in the future, given that an increasing amount of films, music and other cultural goods are available free of charge on the internet. He warned against using draconian methods to uphold copyright law, adding: “If the insistence is that the only way forward is increased enforcement and that every copy made is monitored, then I dread to think what will happen in the next ten years.” Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window) Related David Cronin may be reached at email@example.com."EU Stakeholders Debate Copyright, Access And Artists In Digital Age" by Intellectual Property Watch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.