BEUC, The European Consumer Organisation, has released an interesting fact sheet pertaining to confusion and uncertainty in consumer use of copyrighted materials. BEUC surveyed relevant stakeholders about the current copyright reform debates in the EU. These stakeholders ranged from collecting societies to academics and government ministries, and the conclusions drawn from their answers are both predictable and problematic: it seems no one can agree on the legality of using copyrighted content.
BEUC took simple and everyday examples on how consumers interact with copyrighted material (for example, making private copies of DVDs, selling an ebook online, or using a VPN to access your Netflix account while on holiday) and asked the stakeholder whether they believed the act was legal or not.
As you can see from the example above, “John” has no idea of knowing whether he is breaking the law by including a piece of his favorite song under his holiday celebrations video.
The discrepancy presented in the wide range of answers is problematic for the justified application of copyright law in the European Union. We should ask ourselves, how good is a law if no one understands it well enough to know whether what they are doing is permitted under that law? What we need is a rebalancing of copyright law that enables people to interact with culture by remixing or quoting copyright-protected works.
If we want people like BEUC’s hypothetical John to respect copyright, we need EU-wide copyright rules that are understandable and that do not hinder everyday uses of culture like quoting or remixing.
A modern EU copyright framework needs to supports these everyday acts of creativity by making sure that the exception for quotations explicitly includes quotations from all types of works, including audio(visual) works.
While harmonising exceptions and limitations throughout the EU Member States is part of the the Digital Single Market Strategy presented by the European Commission in May, the Commission has not yet decided whether this would include a uniform quotation exception that includes uses of audiovisual works. The same is true for the European Parliament’s evaluation report of the copyright directive, where a call for ensuring that audiovisual works are covered by a mandatory quotation exception has now been removed as part of a compromise between the political parties. As illustrated by the BEUC report, the upcoming update to the EU copyright rules will need to take into account the concerns of citizens and their interests in interacting with the culture that surrounds them.
We need to make sure the Johns of the world are able to create, share and interact with culture without fearing they’ll break the law. Bringing copyright back in line with the daily cultural practices of citizens is long overdue.