Commissioners reveal plans to harmonise EU copyright laws

Out-Law News | 07 May 2009 | 9:36 am | 2 min. read

Two European commissioners have outlined plans to more closely harmonise copyright law across the European Union's 27 member states and create EU-wide copyright licences. The commissioners want to end 'fragmentation' of copyright laws.

Information Society and Media Commissioner Viviane Reding and Consumer Commissioner Meglena Kuneva have published a 'digital agenda' which includes action on copyright law.

They want to create a cross-border copyright licence that would allow people in any member state to buy and use copyrighted content from any other member state on standard terms.

"[One priority is] ensuring that for consumers it does not matter which EU country digital content (music, games, films, books) comes from, by paving the way for multi-territorial licensing regimes for online content," said a Commission statement.

Though there is a Copyright Directive, each EU country has its own copyright laws. This has resulted in most retailers restricting online music sales to their own country for fear of breaking copyright law in other countries.

Even Apple's dominant iTunes online music shop has been launched country by country to enable the company to negotiate different copyright regimes.

Licensing societies in each country collect fees for music sales according to the copyright laws of that country, making it hard for retailers to engage in pan-EU sales.

Reding and Kuneva want to change the legal regime so that retailers from any country in the EU can easily offer content for sale and use in any other.

“The offer of content online is growing more and more but the current regime is still locked into national territorial licensing, with the result that EU consumers are often prevented from legally watching content anytime, anywhere and on any platform,” the commissioners’ proposal said, according to the New York Times.

"In the EU, consumer rights online should not depend on where a company or website is based," said Reding. "National borders should no longer complicate European consumers' lives when they go online to buy a book or download a song."

The commissioners also want to harmonise the laws in all 27 countries that deal with 'private copying'. Private copying takes place when the purchaser of a CD, for example, uses their computer to transfer a copy of it on to their MP3 player.

It is lawful in some countries and not in others. The EU's Copyright Directive says that countries can have laws which permit private copying, but that they must make 'adequate compensation' to rights holders. This is often done through a levy on goods such as blank cassette tapes or MP3 players.

Reding and Kuneva say they want to "[give] consumers certainty about what they can and cannot do with copy¬righted songs, videos and films they download, by ending the current fragmentation of laws on 'private copying'," said the Commission statement.

"If we want consumers to shop around and exploit the potential of digital communications, then we need to give them confidence that their rights are guaranteed," said Kuneva. "That means putting in place and enforcing clear consumer rights that meet the high standards already existing in the main street. [The] internet has everything to offer consumers, but we need to build trust so that people can shop around with peace of mind."