Tag Archives: copyright

Meeting the Independent Music Industry

Presenting an award to Martin Mills

Last week I had the great privilege of hosting a dinner for the organisation IMPALA, where we discussed the future of the music industry and copyright.  IMPALA are an organisation that represents the independent music industry at the European level.

One of the highlights for me was presenting the IMPALA award for “European Independent Album of the Year” to Martin Mills, CEO of the Beggars Group.  The award was in recognition of the Beggars’ artist Adele’s incredible success with her exceptional album “21”.

The thing that became very clear to me is how difficult a position the independent music industry is currently in.  With the exception of acts such as Adele, independents have to work very hard for their artists with relatively little reward in comparison to the bigger labels.  The fact is that less than 40% of the music played on European radio or downloaded in Europe is actually European.  And only 5 out of every 100 artists in the top 100 are signed to independent labels.

This is a situation that is unlikely to improve if the current deal for Universal and Sony to acquire their rival EMI is allowed to go through by the Commission.

As a representative for London where the creative industries are the second largest employer after the financial sector, I know how important it is both culturally and economically to support genuine homegrown businesses such as the ones IMPALA represents.  In the music industry, the independents are responsible for 80% of the innovation and 80% of the jobs.   That is why it so important that politicians at the European and member state level listen to their concerns.

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The European Commission releases its Communication on Copyright

The European Commission has just released a Communication addressing the issues surrounding copyright and intellectual propoerty rights, one of the biggest questions facing all who want the EU and its citizens to embrace the many opportunities that the internet brings.

The Communication is ambitious. This is good. This is a huge area and it will take a great deal of ambition to sort it out. The aim is to get some kind of coherency across the EU in regard to copyright and intellectual property laws. At the moment the law is so fragmented across member states that it leaves rights holders and consumers in a difficult position.

Since a Commission Communication sets out the main points to be dealt with prior to legislation, we shall have to wait for the various directives to see the details of the commission’s proposals. However, I think what most people will be focussing on is the thorny issue of enforcement.

I was interested to see that the Communication specifically mentions Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in the section on enforcement.  The report says:
“Any amendments should have as their objective tackling the infringements at their source and, to that end, foster cooperation of intermediaries, such as internet service providers, while being compatible with the goals of broadband policies and without prejudicing the interests of end consumers.”

In the UK we will shortly be requiring ISPs to start warning then blocking people who continually illegally download content. They already have to block access to websites that contain child abuse images. We will have to wait till 2012 to see the details of this particular EU proposal, but if our experience in Britain is anything to go by then we can expect the ISPs will resist any attempt to compel them to enforce these laws. They certainly lobbied us hard over the report that attempted to get them to block child pornography across Europe.

Since ISPs can make a very important contribution to the discussion,  I hope that they can recognise that the role at they have to play in the fight against piracy.

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Copyright for Creativity

As those of you who read my blog regularly will know, I have a long-standing interest in the issue of copyright reform; a contentious policy area that never fails to ignite impassioned debate. Unfortunately this debate all too frequently descends into adversarial posturing and, ultimately, stalemate. In an attempt to move beyond this, a diverse group of policy makers, artists and industry specialists met at the British Library last week to discuss the scope for enacting European-wide reform.  MEPs in attendance included fellow S&D member Luigi Berlinuer, Austrian Green Eva Lichtenberger, and Lib Dem Bill Newton Dunn. Disappointingly, this was one of the meetings I was forced to miss as a result of illness. Fortunately, however, the organisers were happy for my constituency assistant to attend on my behalf, so I’m able to report back on the results of the meeting.

The general consensus was that the existing rights regime needs to be tempered by further exceptions if we are to promote and facilitate research and creativity. Current rules, it was argued, are fragmented, arcane and restrictive, seeming only to cement opposition between rights holders (who are often not the artists themselves) and users. In many countries existing intellectual property laws prevent even those steps necessary to preserve and archive digital material. This has meant that much of our recent digital history has decayed and become digitally corrupt.

Researchers and educational institutions suffer most from the present rights regime. In addition to finding some resources inaccessible as a result of decay, many confront what the BL describes as ‘digital lockdown’ resulting from the complex web of rights protections circling much modern material. Wilma Mossink, a Dutch academic, noted that she confronted restrictions so frequently that she felt unable to capitalise on the wealth of material available, wary of incurring costs or attracting legal disputes. Martyn Ware, of Human League fame, had encountered the same problem whilst contributing to an education project for autistic children, which had hoped to broadcast BBC material.

This issue is far from settled and European-wide reform of copyright law will require lengthy negotiation if we are to strike the right balance between the private interest of the creator and broader interest of the citizen. However, we must move forward with this if we are to promote creativity, innovation and cross-border collaboration

The Copyright for Creativity ‘Declaration for Europe’ can be accessed here.

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Firm and far-reaching plans for the digital agenda in Europe

You will remember I wrote a less than favourable blog about the Dutch Commissioner Neelie Kroes following her confirmation hearing in the middle of January.

I now take it all back.  At the European Parliament Culture and Education Committee yesterday Commissioner Kroes gave an excellent presentation about the aspects of her digital agenda brief which concern our Committee’s work.  Speaking in English throughout she gained the support and respect of the whole Committee.  I for one am now pleased that we eventually took the decision to confirm her in what is an extremely important post.

Mrs Kroes has set six key performance targets for the digital agenda for Europe, in itself no mean feat in the EU where practicality can get drowned out by reaching for the lowest common denominator, not to mention the philosophising beloved by some of my colleagues.

1. Broadband targets

  •  Basic broadband for all by 2013
  •  Fast broadband by 2020 – coverage of at least 30 Mbps for everyone in the EU
  • • Ultra-fast broadband by 2020. Half of European households to have 100 Mbps

2. Digital single market

  • Promoting e-commerce. 50% of the population should be buying online by 2018 and 20% buying cross border by 2015
  • Telecoms. Difference between national and roaming tariffs should be zero by 2015
  • 33% of SME should conduct online services by 2015

3. Digital inclusion

  •  Increase regular internet use from 60% to 75% by 2015 and from 41% to 60% of disadvantaged people
  •  Halve the proportion of the population who have never used the internet by 2015 (30% down to 15%)

4. Public services

  •   50% of EU population using e-government by 2015
  • Online availability of cross border public services by 2015

5. Research and innovation

  •  Double public investment to €11 billion

6. Low Carbon Economy

  •  By 2020 at least 20% overall reduction in energy use on lighting

The Culture and Education Committee added issues of its own during the discussion.  Committee members were concerned about copyright on the internet, currently a hot topic. There is no doubt that illegal file sharing, especially of music, is having a detrimental effect on artists and performers.

As well as being particularly concerned about the protection of children from sexual and other abuse on the internet, I also raised the issue of medial literacy. People need not only to know how to access the internet but also how to use it responsibly and get the most out of it.

The Commissioner took our points on board and I am sure she will look into the detail of what Committee members said.  Mrs Kroes is, I believe, genuinely committed to working with the European Parliament and will do her utmost to ensure co-operation between us, the Commisson and the Council.  On a personal level I would also like to thank Mrs Kroes for the one-on-one meeting I had with her recently.

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Getting Creative with Creative Rights

 

I had the pleasure of being invited to take part in a panel discussion at a conference run by the EU Observer, called Online Content and Creative Rights. The discussion was entitled ‘Get paid when you get played’ and I shared the platform with Liberal MEP Cecilia Wilkström, Jörg Evers, Chairperson of GEMA, and Jean-Eric De Cockborne from the European Commission.  The debate focused on what we as legislators could do to tackle this important and difficult issue while Mr. Evers provided an industry perspective.

It was an enlightening debate, one that brought in to sharp relief the complex nature of the problem.  The Reflections paper released by the European Commission has suggested that there be a single European Market for copyright, with big international collecting societies providing a “one stop shop” for everyone – from i-Tunes to BBC Radio 1 – wishing to purchase a license to play or distribute music.  This sounds like a perfectly sensible and workable idea, especially when you think about the current situation where rights to music have to be negotiated on a country by country basis, meaning that some music available in one country won’t be available in another.  This can encourage piracy, since if a song is not available legally in a particular country then some would simply look for an alternative, most likely illegal, source on the internet. 

But this single market idea does have a lot of problems, especially when you consider cultural diversity, something that the European Parliament is very keen to protect.  Artists and creators from smaller member states or more niche markets might get lost or forgotten in a huge, pan-European system.  So already a difficult question and we haven’t even started talking properly about piracy yet.  Needless to say when we were asked questions by the floor, a great many forthright views were expressed.  It was very useful for me and my fellow legislators to see the strength and diversity of feeling on these issues.

The Labour Government is introducing some very good legislation at the moment which is going to tackle this issue head on, punishing those who download and upload content illegally.  I hope that we can be as constructive at the European level.  This is one of the big issues in the Culture and Education Committee, and as the Coordinator for the S&D group, I will be working with my colleagues to make sure we find the right solution.  The internet has meant that the old way of doing things for collecting societies and the record industry is now quickly becoming obsolete, so it is up to them as well as us here in the Parliament to find solutions.  It is time for us all to get creative with creative rights.

I did an interview for the EU Observer website afterwards which you can find here, along with a number of other interviews from people speaking at the conference.

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