Kroes: Copyright laws obstructing digital future

Neelie Kroes, Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda, has warned that copyright reform is essential to ensure a single market, central to Europe’s digital future.

Delivering a keynote address on ‘Taking TV and film into the digital age’ at IBC 2014, Kroes, making what could be her final such speech before Jean-Claude Juncker, Commission President-elect, nominates his new cabinet and portfolios, noted that the changes to the audivisual world brought about new options and new opportunities: new ways to stimulate, produce, enjoy and benefit from creative works, and that the technology being showcased all around the IBC made access to high quality interactive media easier and better on increasingly converged platforms.

“So why do we allow old regulations to keep them apart? Why are sectors trying to pull apart? Stakeholders prefer to separate and fight; and our regulations encode division, distortion and divergence,” she said.

“In the media sector, digital developments bring new dilemmas. How to ensure a level playing field. The role of competition law, contract law, sector-specific law; the role of intermediaries and internet providers. And how to enjoy the economies of scale of our single market,” she continued.

“Creation takes effort; and that investment needs its reward. But today’s rules often do the opposite; technology is three steps ahead of our legal framework; territorial restrictions just put barriers in the way. We already have a single, simple rule to promote that: the ‘country of origin’ rule for audiovisual and media services. So once you’ve created your programme, once you’ve invested: you can broadcast anywhere in the EU. Giving you – not a tangle of rules to deal with – but consistency, clarity and certainty. That is central to a single market, central to our digital future,” she asserted.

“And we need to build on it with copyright reform. Today, broadcasters spend years on paperwork to clear licences, so they can show material in other EU countries. That’s expensive enough for the established players; new innovative players can’t afford it at all. Only those with patience and deep pockets can afford to negotiate that maze. On the other side, many people ask me: ‘hy can’t I pay to access my favourite TV show when I travel? Or watch the match of my favourite football team from back home?’ And I just don’t know how to answer them. It’s time for change,” she declared.

“Today’s rules are obstructing tomorrow’s digital future. I hope the next big player will be European. But that will only happen if we look ahead and think smart. When markets are still developing and converging, we should not regulate too far or too fast,” she advised. “But we should find the best tools for the job, those that help the sector develop, innovate and grow. If they are not doing so, we shouldn’t copy the mistakes of the past: we should take every opportunity to deregulate.”

She noted that Juncker had made the digital single market a priority. “And he is right to do so,” she stated. Audiovisual content – films, videos, games, and TV – will be central to that single market. How do we achieve it? Not through ambitions and announcements: but by actions and achievements. And in fact many of the actions are already on the table,” she suggested.

“For one thing: we need ensure open access to content. That starts with net neutrality – so viewers are free to access whatever they choose; without their telco provider deciding for them. Of course: some new services like IPTV may need a guaranteed, high quality; that should be possible, as long as it doesn’t degrade the regular internet. We have proposals on the table to do that: to safeguard the open Internet, without blocking new services. I hope lawmakers can agree those rules soon, for a connected continent. And of course access to content goes much wider than just this one issue; it also means platform neutrality, search neutrality and more. We need to focus on the whole value chain.

Second – we have a specific legal framework, a Directive for audiovisual and media services. We just consulted; it is due for review in 2015. One thing is clear to me: often those rules are too dated or too detailed to deal with digital.

Addressing other topics such as net neutrality and spectrum, Kroes noted that her speech had raised many questions. “Answering them will be for my successor. And here is my advice to the next digital Commissioners. These are not trends we can avoid or ignore. And this is no longer a sector we can afford to constrain. Don’t regulate too far or too fast: in some markets – still changing and converging – action would be premature. In other areas, like copyright, reform is long overdue. So let’s take every opportunity to deregulate and adapt. Most of all – remember where you want to go. Build on your strengths and support them: but look beyond the present. Do not allow the outcome and the opportunity to be determined and defined merely by the status quo. The ingredients are in place for positive change – for an audiovisual sector that stays strong, enlightening Europe, leading the world. That’s what I hope to see – long into our digital future. So let’s make that change,” she concluded.

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