Europe needs a regulatory framework that fosters investment and the provision of innovative services, according to Luigi Gambardella, Chairman of the Executive Board of ETNO, the association of Europe’s Telecommunications Network Operators.
In an interview with New Europe, Gambardella discussed ETNO’s response to the European Commission’s Public Consultation on the review of EU copyright rules, which sought takeholders’ views on whether the current copyright regime is still fit for purpose in the digital age and whether – and how – the current fragmentation of the EU copyright market should be overcome to match the users’ demand.
Gambardella explained that ETNO joined a broad coalition of stakeholders representing the majority of European electronic communications and Internet industry, composed by both national and pan-European fixed and mobile telecoms operators, Internet Services Providers (ISPs) and cable companies, noting that the coalition advocates for a progressive regulatory framework for copyright, able to foster investment and the provision of innovative services, while providing appropriate and balanced protection mechanisms.
“We strongly reaffirm that copyright is fundamental to innovation and copyright owners need to be properly remunerated for their works; at the same time, we want, equally, to highlight the enormous opportunities and facilities granted by ICT and the Internet in terms of social and economic welfare. In Europe to keep this value, we need a regulatory framework that fosters investment and the provision of innovative services,” he declared.
He said that if Europe was to regain its leadership worldwide, it needed to revise fully the Digital Agenda objectives. “The forthcoming new European Commission and Parliament terms are a unique opportunity to establish a legal framework that is fit for purpose in the digital environment also in the field of copyright, where a sound balance of equally relevant interests must be struck,” he said.
According to Gambardella, cross-border availability of content is essential for the development of cross-border services and, therefore, it must be facilitated. However, there still exist a number of barriers. “By way of example, the fact that copyright and licensing schemes are nationally based, often with content providers requiring geo-filtering and restrictive licences for national territories, is certainly an obstacle to the achievement of the European single market,” he advised.
“Barriers to providing cross-borders services also exist due to national cultures and languages, the need for the adoption of open standards for content delivery, the cost of compliance with different national consumer laws and fiscal regulations, the costs of providing customer care in several languages, and the risk of fraud and non-payments,” he continued.
“Also, a global set of principles for privacy would benefit users, who might benefit from the same level of protection no matter where they are based nor which and where the provider is. At the same time, this would ensure that European businesses can compete on the same level playing field with foreigners market leaders, in particular from US,” he suggested.
Although noting that there are still many differences in laws and practices at national level, he suggested that on the contrary, cross border services require a harmonised pan-European legal framework. “This applies from the provider as well as from the consumer perspective,” he explained.
“Let’s think about the Cloud services and their enormous potential. They allow easier access to digital content for consumers and provide artist with new distribution models. One of the main advantages of cloud services is their global nature; imposing territorial/national levy systems on global services is unfeasible, especially from a Single Market perspective. The same applies for the private copy levy, for which we definitely need a harmonised approach,” he stated.
According to Gambardella, this general lack of harmonisation and clarity impacts on providers of cross border services that need the same legal and competitive environment wherever they are established and at the end on consumers.
He said that ETNO welcomed the Directive on Collective Rights Management as an important step to solve some relevant problems such as the lack of a competitive landscape for collecting societies, lack of transparency, excessive transaction costs in the negotiation and implementation of license agreements with collecting societies, lack of clarity on rights ownership and the complexity of rights management, but suggested however that the implementation of its provisions by Member States would be key and need to be monitored.
He questioned whether the introduction of pan-European licences for audio-visual works covering the entire EU footprint it would be an appropriate solution because it would most likely not suit the reality of the European market. “It would impose on distributors the clearance of very expensive rights available in 28 Member States with no guarantee of a return on investment in each of them (return from consumers’ subscriptions, advertising, etc.), favouring, instead, large players already established in the market or able to bear the related investments,” he insisted.
He suggested that further measures were needed, in particular to foster the availability of digital content on different media, in particular the new ones.
According to Gambardella, the current civil enforcement framework at European level remains sound and is based on principles that are still relevant today as confirmed by the recent European Court of Justice Decisions. “It achieves the right balance between copyright and other fundamental rights such as the right to privacy and the right to operate business, and is consistent with the liability regime of intermediaries which is a pillar in the EU framework. We believe that it should not be reviewed,” he declared.