Recognising that new technologies have huge implications for the creative sector, as well as for the policies and regulatory structures that underpin it, Neelie Kroes, Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda, has renewed her call for changes to those structures.
Delivering a speech as part of the stakeholders dialogue on copyright, Kroes said that old practices needed to adapt to new digital realities. “That calls for real change and legal and practical solutions: competition tools are not enough for that,” she stated. She noted that her Commission colleague Michel Barnier had proposed a new Directive on collective rights management which she hoped would be agreed soon.
“Looking back, I am happy to see the world changing and evolving. At first, digital technology met huge resistance. Huge effort was spent trying to adapt technology to fit prevailing market practices. Digital technology was seen as a threat to content instead of an opportunity. That to me is the wrong approach. It certainly led to a lot of highly polarised debates. But, I would also say, it did not create any winners,” she said.
According to Kroes, the right approach is the other way round. “We should rather adapt practices to fit new digital opportunities. And today you can see the change, and the benefits, delivered by that. Just look at all those music streaming services, ever more popular and widespread. Some even talk of the “Spotify effect”: that music piracy is no longer a problem in Sweden, because there’s a good legal alternative. While for SACEM, in France, digital is now their third largest source of revenue, rising 40 per cent in five years.”
Overall, she recognised that there was a lot to do, but was reassured by general trends. “My calls for change, starting over five years ago, were not in vain. You are here, so many stakeholders – from copyright owners, users, collecting societies, publishers, universities, and more – and you have reacted so positively and agreed to make things move. For me that shows two important things: first, change is needed; second, we are ready for it.”
“But technology, and society, are moving forward faster than our framework and licensing practices. I hear all the time about people who want to watch their favourite soap operas across borders, but can’t. About those trying to digitise our film heritage and preserve our cultural diversity – but who must deal with a pile of complex licensing requirements. About people afraid to innovate by re-using content. About researchers unable to compete, and citizens unable to benefit from their discoveries, because they can’t use the opportunities of technology,” she observed.
Noting that the Digital Economy was “steaming ahead” and bringing benefits, she also suggested that “rich, vibrant online content” was a big part of that digital economy. “And that’s what ‘Licences for Europe’ is about – helping you capture all the benefits of a connected, competitive continent. Ultimately, I want Europeans to enjoy a wide choice of lawful digital content, wherever they are: and for that content to be rewarded,” she declared.
“So we are launching this initiative to show technology and copyright can go together. I am not too keen on heavy-handed legislative measures. They aren’t always needed; and sometimes, pragmatic and easy-to-implement solutions are just as valid. The goal is to adjust current practices or get rid of costly inefficiencies. This initiative is called ‘Licences for Europe’ and new licensing approaches for protected content will no doubt feature prominently in your discussions. We do not prejudge its outcome,” she confirmed.
“But keep your minds open: maybe in some cases licensing won’t be the solution. Maybe it will be provided by technology and data, like the Global Repertoire Database or some wider initiative not yet on the table. This exercise will show us how far we can solve our issues within the current framework,” she advised.
“But as you know, the Commission is also working on a parallel track of action: Looking at modernisation through legislation,” she said. “Those solutions can help our creative sectors, our scientists, and our citizens. Most of all, they can show that, in a time of great change, Europe can adapt its copyright framework and stay credible and relevant,” she concluded.