March 17, 2015 | By Jeremy Malcolm

A European Digital Single Market Is Only Possible if Internet Users Are Heard

Last year, the current President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Junker, declared that his number one priority was to “create a digital single market for consumers and businesses,” in which “consumers can access music, movies and sports events on their electronic devices wherever they are in Europe and regardless of borders”.

This is a dream that many Europeans share, and is reflected in the draft report for the European Parliament put together by Julia Reda, which EFF commented on last month. Reda's proposals to the Commission provide a road-map for how to get from here to there—from a convoluted system of 28 different markets, each with different copyright rules, towards a system where licensing rules and users' rights are harmonized, much as they are between the 50 United States.

Reda's report, which is one of two reports on copyright that the European Parliament is preparing as non-binding inputs for the Commission, has drawn proposed amendments from four of the Committees of the Parliament. Votes on those amendments are coming up between March 24 and May 7 (the full complexity of this process is illustrated in the diagram below, prepared by our friends at EDRI, who also have a document pool with more information).

The majority of the proposed amendments from other Parliamentarians are disheartening for Europeans wishing to see real copyright reform. The amendments would gut the report of some of its key recommendations, including that copyright limitations and exceptions should be unified across Europe, that there should be a European version of “fair use”, and that DRM should not be allowed to inhibit users from accessing works in ways that copyright law allows.

Many of these proposals make high-sounding references to the need to preserve Europe's cultural diversity. This sounds good on the surface, but these are actually an argument in favor of retaining 28 different sets of copyright laws, all with their own distinct sets of copyright limitations and exceptions. This would make the dream of a single European digital market all but impossible.

One of the problems behind the lack of vision displayed by these European Parliamentarians is that they have not been exposed to a balanced cross-section of views of all stakeholders. In particular, a new cross-cutting Working Group on Intellectual Property Rights and Copyright Reform, which contains representatives from all of the groups who have commented on Reda's report, is being briefed only by a narrow retinue of lobbyists and analysts who hold views favorable to rightsholders.

Today, EFF joined 23 other organizations and networks in writing to the Coordinator of the Working Group, Jean-Marie Cavada, to ask that it ensure a more balanced representation of views going forward. The letter states:

Making copyright rules future-proof requires a holistic approach. This can only be achieved if the full spectrum of stakeholders is adequately represented and given a chance to speak in front of Members of Parliament who will ultimately be tasked with passing new copyright legislation.

It will still be an uphill battle to achieve meaningful copyright reform for Europe's almost 800 million citizens—the process of European lawmaking is slow, baroque, and beset with weak points where compromises can creep in. But a good first step in keeping the dream of a digital single market for Europeans alive would be to ensure that copyright users, and not just rightsholder lobbyists, get a fair chance to be heard.


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