Reding calls for new internet piracy policies

Rose Major

Viviane Reding, the EU’s Commissioner for Telecoms and Media, has joined the debate over internet piracy, in the week that France’s legislature have again examined new laws which threaten to cut the internet subscriptions of those watching copyrighted material online.

Reding said that while both sides of the debate were right, the inability to understand the other point-of-view was not helping development of solutions to the problem.

“While many right holders insist that every unauthorised download from the internet is a violation of intellectual property rights and therefore illegal or even criminal, others stress that access to the internet is a crucial fundamental right. Let me be clear on this: Both sides are right,” said Reding. She continued: “The drama is that after long and often fruitless battles, both camps have now dug themselves in their positions, without any signs of opening from either side.

"In the meantime, internet piracy appears to become more and more ‘sexy’, in particular for the digital natives already, the young generation of intense internet users between 16 and 24. This generation should become the foundation of our digital economy, of new innovation and new growth opportunities. However, Eurostat figures show that 60% of them have downloaded audiovisual content from the internet in the past months without paying. And 28% state that they would not be willing to pay.

“These figures reveal the serious deficiencies of the present system. It is necessary to penalise those who are breaking the law. But are there really enough attractive and consumer-friendly legal offers on the market? Does our present legal system for Intellectual Property Rights really live up to the expectations of the internet generation? Have we considered all alternative options to repression? Have we really looked at the issue through the eyes of a 16 year old? Or only from the perspective of law professors who grew up in the Gutenberg Age? In my view, growing internet piracy is a vote of no-confidence in existing business models and legal solutions. It should be a wake-up call for policy-makers.”

Delivering the Ludwig Erhard Lecture in Brussels, Reding said that it should be easier and more consumer friendly to access digital content. A key part of that is to facilitate the licensing of intellectual property rights for online services covering the territory of all 27 EU Member States.

“Today, right holders and online service providers need to spend far too much time and money on the administration of rights, instead of investing this money in attractive services,” said Reding. “And consumers often cannot access online content if uploaded in another Member State. For online content in a single market of 27 Member States, economies of scale and consumer-friendly solutions will require a much simpler and less fragmented regulatory framework than the one of today. We had a similar problem when commercial satellite TV started more than 30 years ago. As right clearance for this per se cross-border service became increasingly complex, Europe developed the Cable and Satellite Directive and introduced a simplified system of rights clearance for the whole of Europe. I believe it is now time to develop similar solutions for the evolving world of online content.”

Reding also called on member countries to quicken the pace of digital TV switchover in order to “bring these benefits to citizens now.” The switch is one of Reding’s four key steps to promote infrastructures for Digital Europe. Reding said that switchover was particularly important in the current economic climate.

“The switchover will free very valuable radio spectrum, currently used by terrestrial analogue TV, for use by new communications and content services,” said Reding. “This process has already been completed in Germany, Finland, Luxembourg, Sweden, the Netherlands, in Flanders here in Belgium as well as in major areas in Austria. The Commission estimates that t he incremental value of this spectrum for wireless broadband across the EU is between €150 and €200 billion. Appropriate European coordination of Member States' work on the digital dividend would increase the potential economic impact of the digital dividend by an additional € 50 billion between now and 2015. Every corner of Europe could reap this "digital dividend", without it costing the taxpayer a single cent – if all EU governments act now.”

A package of draft measures to accelerate switchover will be presented today.

Reding’s other four measures are to reform Europe’s telecoms rules with new directives and regulations; encourage investment in next generation networks; and to make 3G mobile phone services more attractive, incluing paving the way for LTE, the next generation of mobile services.

On the first point, Reding said the agreement on a new set of regulations for telecoms was being held up by disagreement over only one subparagraph. “Just think about what more consistent telecoms regulation could do for the providers of business services in the EU,” she said. “If access rules for businesses were more consistently and effectively enforced across the EU, GDP could be boosted by 1.6% to 2%. Experts also estimate that the present regulatory fragmentation in telecoms costs Europe’s businesses €20 billion per year – a cost factor that, in view of the present crisis, we should eliminate as soon as possible by bringing the reforms into force, and by applying the new rules effectively.”