Brussels tackles territorial copyright in digital strategy

Adventures in copyright. []

The European Commission is preparing to unlock territorial copyright protection for TV, film and music, as part of its Digital Single Market (DSM) blueprint, unveiled on Wednesday (25 March). But it will also include key exemptions for the audiovisual sector, officials told EURACTIV.

Andrus Ansip, Vice-President for the Digital Single Market, announced yesterday (25 March) that the forthcoming strategy will be divided into three sections, and published on 6 May.

The three sections deal with consumer interests, infrastructure and industry, with copyright and geo-blocking of digital content to be dealt with under the first heading.

Across the EU, digital services such as music streaming site Spotify, or shopping behemoth Amazon, often remain confined to national borders, with separate accounts required from one country to another.

Günther Oettinger, the Commissioner in charge of Digital Economy and Society, is set to publish a proposed copyright reform by the autumn, an issue subject to strong lobbying.

The EU executive wants to overhaul copyright rules to enable simpler cross-border online access to digital services throughout and between member states.

“Let us do away with all those fences and walls that block us online,” Ansip said in a statement.

Geo-blocking by copyright and commercial contract

One key aspect of the the Digital Single Market will be to limit geo-blocking, which happens when rights holders such as television broadcasters prevent users from accessing material when they are based in another country.

Such blocking is caused by the limitation of copyright licenses within member states, and also commercial agreements between broadcasters and producers.

>> Read: Geo-blocking attacked from all sides

According to the Commission, 1 in 3 Europeans is interested in watching or listening to content from their home country when abroad. 1 in 5 would be interested to watch or listen to content available in other EU countries.

For the Commission, this is “an opportunity not to be missed” as consumer spending on digital entertainment and media is expected to have a double digit growth rates estimated to 12% over the next five years.

“Why can’t consumers get all the stuff they have legal access to wherever they are?,” asked Robert Madelin, the director general of the Commission’s CNECT department, which deals with digital issues. In a broad interview with EURACTIV last year, Madelin referred to “passive consumption in copyright terms”, saying it would “unlock a real longtail market” for digital content.

“At the moment, all rights can be territorial and particularly with football, because it is a segmentable market with real demand everywhere….And the result is sometimes perverse, because smaller markets may be cut out. What do we do about the Maltese consumer who can’t legally access the Premier League in real time and who either has to go through a VPN solution or just cry into their beer?” Madelin said.

This week (23 March), the Society of Audiovisual Authors (SAA) published a policy paper calling for an “enforced unwaivable right to remuneration for the exploitation of works” on behalf of its members.

The SAA claims that its members – copyright collecting societies managing the rights of more than 120,000 authors – represent only 0.37% of audiovisual sector revenues. It fiercely defends the freedom to contract on a territorial basis, reflecting the territories operated on by the collecting societies themselves.

“I have unfortunately had to learn the hard way how poor contractual practices deprive authors from being linked to the success of their works,” Roger Michell, who directed the British romantic comedy Notting Hill, told an SAA meeting to launch the paper held at the Bibliothèque Solvay.

“Professional organisations and collective management organsiations (CMOs), like the members of SAA, are essential to authors like me being able to be paid fairly for my work and to enforce my rights,” Michell said.

Three-part Digital Single Market raises concerns

Territoriality is not an impediment to the circulation of works, according to the SAA; “Often, the supposed barriers have nothing to do with authors’ rights, but everything to do with business practices,” a statement from the SAA said.

EURACTIV has heard from several sources that the Commission is looking to find an accommodation with the filmmakers, by providing some form of cultural exemption within draft rules, which would safeguard the audiovisual sector.

EU officials confirmed that the Commission would be capable of including exemptions within any new rules.

The issue will be controversial, with one digital sector analyst, who preferred to remain anonymous, asking: “How does such a system of copyright levy collection imposed on consumers in some EU countries fit with Ansip’s vision of a digital single market?”

Meanwhile Ansip’s decision to split the DSM into three sections raised fears that some areas would be prioritised at the expense of others, with some analysts questioning why the paper was being split into three parts.

In 2014, Jean-Claude Juncker announced that the establishment of a Digital Single Market (DSM) would be one of the priorities in his first term as European Commission chief.

Andrus Ansip, Vice-President for the Digital Single Market, leads the portfolio.

In 2015, the Commission aims to conclude the ongoing common European data protection reform, and the regulation on a Connected Continent. It will also propose new legislative and non-legislative initiatives on telecommunications, modernise EU legislation on copyright, and simplify the rules for consumers making online purchases.

On Wednesday (25 March) Ansip announced that the strategy will be published on 6 May and will be divided into three areas.

  • The first area – “better access for consumers and business” – will focus on e-commerce, geo-blocking, copyright and VAT levels for companies in the digital market.
  • The second area – “shaping the environment for digital networks and services” – will cover telecoms infrastructure rules, including spectrum policy, online platforms and the data protection regulation.
  • Meanwhile a third area – including issues such as standardisation in interoperability and digital skills – covers the long-term growth potential of the digital economy.
  • May 6th 2015:  Vice President Andrus Ansip to publish Digital Single Market strategy
  • By June 2015: Indicative date by which a common general position on the Data Protection Regulation should be achieved by the Parliament and member states
  • By Autumn 2015: Copyright reform proposals expected to be published by Commission

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