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21 November 2011, 10:32

EU Commissioner calls the term copyright a hated word

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EU logo The EU's Digital Agenda Commissioner, Neelie Kroes, has criticised the current system for the protection of intellectual property rights. In her traditional speech at a cultural and media forum in Avignon on Saturday, the Dutch politician said that the millions of dollars invested trying to enforce copyright have not stemmed piracy. Speaking with unusual frankness, Kroes said that citizens increasingly hear the word copyright and hate what is behind it. "Sadly, many see the current system as a tool to punish and withhold, not a tool to recognise and reward [creative work]", she added.

The Commissioner continued by saying that the current copyright system is also failing to provide economic reward for professional artists. "Half the fine artists in the UK, half the 'professional' authors in Germany, and, I am told, an incredible 97.5% of one of the biggest collecting society's members in Europe, receive less than that paltry payment of 1000 euros a month for their copyright works", Kroes admonished. The Commissioner added that although the best-paid in this sector are well rewarded, "at the bottom of the pyramid are a whole mass of people who need independent means or a second job just to survive".

The EU representative said that the copyright system is no longer fulfilling its traditional aims. "We need to go back to basics and put the artist at the centre", she explained. What's needed are "creative business models" to monetise art, said Kroes, adding that this requires "flexibility in the system, not the straitjacket of a single model". In the Commissioner's eyes "the platforms, channels and business models by which content is produced, distributed and used can be as varied and innovative as the content itself".

The internet and ICT can help creative people connect with their audience directly and conveniently, Kroes said. Digitisation can be used to build a global repertoire database that would create a transparent way for artists and intermediaries to distribute and bill for creative works, and to find out who is looking at what artwork; cloud computing presents a whole new framework for purchasing music, books and films. However, she added that these technologies raise new questions about optimal licensing for these platforms, and that answering these questions will require an open, flexible legal framework. Legislation should support such processes while making sure that the system efficiently secures the interests of artists themselves, said Kroes, adding that this is the aim of the Commission's future legislative proposal on collective rights management.

The Commissioner also said that tax regulations should be adapted for the digital world. For example, she noted that it is only common-sense to think that ebooks shouldn't incur more VAT than physical books. Kroes recommended that the film industry reconsider its "windowing" approach for monetising cinematic releases, DVDs and online releases as well as TV productions. "Binding legislation dictating the sequence and period of release windows seems inflexible – and may make it harder, not easier, to provide and purchase content legally", she added. Kroes encouraged a greater willingness to experiment, referring to the extended collective licensing that is practised in Scandinavia. She said that people need to stop "obsessing" about the copyright system as the only way to salvation. "Let's not wait for a financial crisis in the creative sector to happen to finally adopt the right tools to tackle it", she said.

(Stefan Krempl / sno)

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