With a new internet freedom provision to be unveiled by the European Parliament, information society commissioner Viviane Reding said repressive tactics such as the “three strikes” policy and other methods to fight internet piracy aren’t working.
Reding said that innovative and more modern ways need to be found to protect intellectual property owned by record companies and artists.
Addressing a telecoms conference in Barcelona, Reding said convergence between telecoms and media is already a reality in the European telecoms market, as evidenced by the rise in the number of bundled offers combining broadband, telephone and internet TV services.
The number of providers offering triple-play services jumped from 13pc of 1,226 broadband providers in 2007 to 27pc in 2008.
Stirring up issues
But the ongoing convergence between telecoms and media has brought in its wake the thorny subject of net neutrality – such as the blocking of voice-over IP packages like Skype by mobile operators – a well as the debate around internet access as a basic human right.
Reding said negotiators in the European Parliament, Council and Commission on the last night of negotiations have agreed to a new internet freedom provision.
“The new internet freedom provision now provides that any measures taken regarding access to and use of services and applications must always respect the fundamental rights and freedoms of citizens.
“Effective and timely judicial review is as much guaranteed as a prior, fair and impartial procedure, the presumption of innocence and the right to privacy. What the debate in Parliament and council clearly showed was that we need to find new, more modern and more effective ways in Europe to protect intellectual property and artistic creation.
“Repression alone will certainly not solve the problem of internet piracy; it may in many ways even run counter to the rights and freedoms which are part of Europe’s values since the French Revolution,” Reding said.
Facts and figures
Reding said that on a parallel track to the big increase in the use of broadband and mobile services in Europe, the cultural and creative sector – comprising published content such as books, newspapers and magazines, musical works and sound recordings, films, video on demand and video games – generates a turnover of more than €650 billion annually and contributes on average 2.6pc of EU GDP, while employing more than 3pc of the EU work force.
“The growing importance of the internet and of digital technologies offers new possibilities for distributing creative content online. The availability of attractive content will be decisive in driving the further takeup of bundled offers and individual telecoms services, in particular high-speed broadband internet, digital television and mobile communication.
“We therefore have a responsibility to protect copyright, especially in an evolving economic and technological environment, while also removing the barriers facing the easier, wider and faster dissemination of creative content to European citizens.
“If we do not very quickly make it easier and more consumer friendly to access digital content, we could lose the greatest opportunity we have ever had, both to maximise the amount of content available to consumers and to secure more efficient protection of rights holders. The stakes are high: the development of a wide range of new and innovative business models which would boost the creativity and competitiveness of the European economy.”
Reding said the reality of convergence requires Europe to take a hard look at the still too fragmented copyright system today in Europe and decide if it is still fit for the purpose in the digital age, or whether it needs to be re-shaped in line with a renewed intellectual property rights strategy.
“We have to tackle the main obstacles that stand in the way of the free movement of creative people, cultural activities and the digital distribution of products and services. We must avert an unacceptable digital divide.
“The digital single market for online content is currently hindered by the fragmentation of copyright law and by widespread licensing practices, which tend to partition the EU market to better control distribution and to maximise revenues.
“The lifting of impediments to the cross-border online distribution of creative works will improve the supply of attractive and affordable services that are legal. In turn, this will reduce the temptation for consumers to indulge in the illicit consumption of copyright-protected material.”
Reding said the next European Commission will have the task of developing a new strategy for growth and jobs and of re-invigorating the single market project.
Presented to the European Parliament in September 2009, the Policy Guidelines of the Commission President call for an ambitious European Digital Agenda. José Manuel Barroso’s strategic vision is called ‘EU 2020’ and it will include targeted legislative action.
By John Kennedy
Photo: Information society commissioner Viviane Reding.