Copyright in the Digital Age

Last week I took part in a very interesting discussion on copyright in the digital age.

The event was organised by Confrontations Europe and the French Permanent Representation to the EU. I was part of a panel that included Maria Martin-Prat, Chief of unit at DG MARKT in the European Commission, Jean-Philippe Mochon, Ministry of Culture, France, Marielle Gallo, MEP and Françoise Castex MEP.

Numerous reports have been adopted by the European Parliament underlining the need to modernize copyright rules and adapt them to the new conditions that the internet has created.  With that in mind, the European Commission has launched an important consultation among stakeholders, entitled “Licences for Europe”, in order to identify contractual or technological solutions likely to enhance the availability of content protected by copyright within the internal market.

A number of interesting points were raised at the meeting, in particular Marielle Gallo pointed out that copyright had been an important part of law throughout Europe for centuries and she believes that it does not hinder fundamental freedoms (e.g. free press, data protection). However, Marielle added, the internet changed everything; modifying the status of cultural works with online access making it cheap or even free. Marielle believes that this is detrimental to copyright and that exclusive rights are not exceptions.

Marielle also raised the very important issue of VAT online.  The European Parliament has voted (500 votes in favour) for aligning VAT for the off and online worlds. However she regretted that no-one in the EU Commission is proposing a way forward on this matter. She said that she looked forward to a time when it would not be so profitable to locate EU HQs in Ireland and Luxembourg when VAT will be paid where goods and services are offered.

Françoise Castex also had some interesting points to make, highlighting especially the importance of cultural exception.  She also spoke of her current report on the private copy levy.  You may not know what this is as we don’t have it in the UK.  It is a tax on all devices that can record and store data, with the money generated being distributed among artists and performers to compensate them for potential money lost through private copying.  Francoise is proposing in her report that consumers be informed if they pay a private copy levy. She also believes that private copy remuneration is a virtuous circle of financing as it comes backs to the society through cultural events.

In my contributions I pointed out that nobody has come up with a fully workable system for dealing with the exploitation of copyrighted materials online, or how policy-makers should regulate it. I believe the internet will always be constantly developing and changing, and as legislators we must be aware that legislation written today could be obsolete by tomorrow.  But the question is how to protect creators is incredibly important in Europe. It comes down to the fact that copyright creates jobs. For instance, in London the cultural and creative industry is 2nd biggest after the financial sector.

Europe needs to strengthen copyright and make it workable. The UK music industry suffered in the past through weak regulation. Europe also needs to ensure a fair environment, and stop piracy; paying particular attention to companies like Google, who have little regard for copyright.

Discussions like this are so important and I hope that, in the coming months, the European Commission’s consultation on ‘Licences for Europe’ will come up with innovative and forward-thinking ideas.  I very much look forward to reading the results.

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