Caïn venant de tuer son frère Abel, by Henry Vidal

Europeans deserve a better copyright reform

The copyright reform proposal presented today by the European Commission fails to meet the needs of citizens, educators, and researchers across Europe. Instead of strengthening the information economy, the proposal preserves a status quo defined in the analog age. In the process, it hinders education, research and cultural expression.

European Commission lacks vision for copyright in the digital age

Today’s proposal buries the hope for a more modern, technologically neutral and flexible copyright framework that the Commission had hinted at in its initial plans for the Digital Single Market. The proposal largely ignores crucial changes to copyright that would have benefitted consumers, users, educators, startups, and cultural heritage institutions. It also abandons the idea of a digital single market that allows all Europeans the same rights to access knowledge and culture. Finally, it completely ignores the importance of protecting and expanding the public domain.

Copyright needs to evolve with technology. Instead of charting a course that can take Europe into the information economy of the future, the Commission has been busy rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Instead, the Commission’s proposal focuses on a wholly different goal: to minimize the impact of the fundamental changes brought about by digital technologies and the internet on legacy business models. Publishers get an ancillary copyright that already has proven itself worthless in practice. Access to most audio-visual content will continue to be hampered by geo-blocking (which the Commission had earlier committed to end), and online platforms might be forced to collaborate with rights holders on censoring content that is shared by users on these platforms. The whole package lacks forward-looking, innovation-friendly measures that embrace digitization as an opportunity for users, creators, businesses, and public institutions in Europe.

In doing this, the Commission abdicates its power to make the European future a better one. It is the future where the stakes are significantly higher than today’s market balance. Soon, the business models that the Commission is trying to protect will no longer be relevant. At stake is a future in which innovation-friendly Europe could have provided the best education for its citizens, drawn the best talent and investment options, and fostered the best research and job opportunities.

Europeans deserve a copyright framework that is fit for the future

The approach proposed for text and data mining is an example of how the desire to protect existing models results in measures that are destined for failure. Driven by the desire to protect licensing revenues of the large scientific publishing houses, the Commission has proposed an exception that introduces new legal risks for anyone engaging in text and data mining outside of a scientific research context.

There seems to be incredible potential for text and data mining throughout our digital society, but the Commission’s proposal confines it to the scientific research sector. This sends a strong signal to startups, businesses, and anyone else wishing to explore the benefits of text and data mining to do so outside of Europe. As a result, new, innovative and globally-competitive businesses will instead emerge in regions where such barriers do not exist, creating jobs and opportunities that will be lost to Europe.

Europeans deserve freedom to use digital content in education

The digital era seems to be the golden age for education. Interactive cross-border learning can connect students with the best educational offerings on the continent regardless of where they live and how much they can spend on educational materials. The Commission had the opportunity to enable a leap forward in education by harmonising the existing technology-neutral exception across the EU. But instead, the Commission’s proposal adds to the legal uncertainty for teachers by introducing a parallel, limited exception for digital educational materials that can be overridden if these materials are available via a licensing option.

The Commission therefore forces European schools to accept licensing schemes, which will continue to extract fees made possible by this unfortunate loophole. We hoped for new, diverse, and innovative modes of teaching and learning. Instead, new types of licenses will flourish, further securing undeserved revenues for old business models. The perpetual reliance on licensing will put further strain on limited educational budgets across Europe, and ultimately negatively affect the quality of education.

Commission sells out EU competitiveness to protect legacy business models

Strong and meaningful exceptions for online education and Text and Data Mining would have been means to make sure Europeans have opportunities to learn and work in Europe. In the long term such opportunities will translate into the creation of new businesses and increasing Europe’s global competitiveness. Unfortunately it appears that the Commission has abandoned this type of long term thinking in favor of protecting the status quo.

A satire on the art business in which art experts and dealers who assess paintings are depicted as donkeys. After the drawing by Trémolières in the Hessisches Landes Museum in Darmstadt (cropped).
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