MEP Reda: Commission is too cautious on geo-blocking and copyright law

Julia Reda [EP]

The European Commission is aiming to tear down “regulatory walls” for digital products and services and turn 28 national markets into a single digital market. But plans on geo-blocking and copyright law are too cautious, says MEP Julia Reda from the Pirate Party in an interview with EURACTIV Germany.

Julia Reda is an MEP from the Pirate Party. In the European Parliament she joined the Greens/EFA political group where she was elected vice-chair. Reda is a member of the Committee on Legal Affairs and a substitute on the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection as well as the Committee on Petitions. At the beginning of November, she was appointed rapporteur of the implementation of the 2001 directive on copyright reform, the “Infosoc Directive”.

A real internal digital market would boost Europe’s economic growth and create hundreds of thousands of new jobs. According to the European Parliament, it could contribute €520 billion in the longer-term to the GDP of the 28 member states. So why is progress in that direction taking so long?

It is not general progress that is so slow but thr political will to take the appropriate legislation into account. Creating common copyright law requires all sides to work together. Copyright holders would not be the only ones to benefit from cross-border cultural exchange but individual member states also have to be willing to legalise usage forms that are already legal in other EU countries, such as modelling public buildings, quoting from videos or creating parodies of copyright protected works. Many governments are not willing to do this.

Together with Commission Vice-President Andrus Ansip, Germany’s EU Commissioner Günther Oettinger has prepared a strategy paper to “tear down regulatory walls and finally move from 28 national markets to a single one”. Where do you see its most significant weaknesses?

The plans on geo-blocking and copyright are too cautious. Being able to watch paid content like video on demand while on vacation will not put an end to the annoying geo-blocking. Often, this affects public service providers or ad-sponsored platforms like YouTube, which are not even included in the Commission’s plans.

A common market is a noble aim but it must be accompanied by a common European public sphere and uniform protection of basic rights like the right to education or press freedom. Although the Commission’s strategy indicates that certain exceptions from copyright are planned to apply across the entire EU, only the scientific sector is named specifically.

We need a much more far-reaching harmonisation of copyright rules so that legally-created videos are not illegal in neighbouring countries and so that new services can be developed.

Cross-border access to digital content like films, music or e-books is a heavily debated issue. While the Commission only wants to block “unjustified” access denial in other EU member states, you criticise geo-blocking as discrimination. Why?

The European Union is governed by the four freedoms: free movement of people, goods, capital and services. Digital content is offered as a service on the internet but often it is not accessible to all people in Europe. That contradicts the basic principles of the common market in the EU and leads to discrimination, especially of immigrants or linguistic minorities.

As a result, the Danish minority in northern Germany is not able to access content provided by the Danish public broadcasting station on the internet, though it is perfectly acceptable to do so via television and radio. Here, there has got to finally be equal treatment of online and offline!

Critics often argue that the European Parliament is forced to reconcile too many conflicting interests when making decisions. What are the most influential interest groups?

A consumer-friendly digital internal market relies on functioning competition. But it is obvious that companies who are already in a dominant market position are not interested in more competition. Of course these have more resources to spend on lobbying than start-ups or consumer protection groups, who could oppose them.

As a result it is not surprising that the big telecommunications companies are resisting the conclusion of a net neutrality measure, that scientific publishing houses are against an educational- and science-friendly copyright law or that copyright holders of big sports events are against the removal of geo-blocking. Lobbying not only affects the decisions in the European Parliament, but also especially the decision-making in the Council, where national governments usually stand up for the interests of their local businesses.

For this reason, we can currently see how home countries of the biggest telecommunications companies block net neutrality and an end to roaming fees in the Council. To represent the interests of the general public, we should take the influence of national governments much more into consideration instead of pushing the blame on Brussels.

The harmonisation of varying laws from 28 countries is a mammoth task. Do you think it is possible to create the digital internal market within two years?

The Commission’s strategy paper is neither a start to the digital internal market nor will it result in this outcome over the next few years. The cogs of decision-making are working very slowly and will also have a difficult time keeping up with technological development. If we want all people in Europe to be involved in the process and not only provide protection for the interests of long-established firms, we must have the courage to move towards common European rules. Here, the Commission is still much too hesitant.

On copyright law, for example, last year they called on thousands of people to join in supporting common European rules. They must seize this opportunity to inspire enthusiasm among the younger generation for the European project.

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