Michel BARNIER: Making European copyright fit for purpose in the age of internet


Enter Ladies and Gentlemen,

First of all, allow me to thank CEPS, Karel LANNOO, Staffan JERNECK, and also Giuseppe MAZZIOTTI, for this invitation.

The European Single market is celebrating its 20th anniversary. This should not be a pretext for nostalgia.

On the contrary, it is an opportunity to assess and improve the way it works:

  • To make sure it plays its part in the economic, social and technological transformations of the 21st century.
  • To make sure it helps us to deliver on our objective: a highly competitive social market economy.

Is the Single Market working to unlock the potential of the digital economy to the benefit of all ? This is an example of the questions we must ask ourselves.

When it was created in 1992, one million computers were connected to the internet worldwide. In 2016, that number will be 10 billion: 10 000 times more!

In 1992, we never imagined that one day we would be able to read our favourite newspaper, discover new music or watch a film  anytime, anywhere, on any device – a laptop, a tablet or a phone.

We could not imagine the opportunities. Or indeed the challenges that would arise. In particular from a European perspective.

Copyright is at the heart of these opportunities and challenges.


Because it is the engine behind the diversity, the creativity and the innovation which can be delivered to all of us though internet.

Therefore we must ask ourselves: it is fit for the digital age?

Our legal framework has of course evolved since 1992, including for copyright. The Information Society Directive of 2001 introduced copyright rules for the digital age. And it remains largely valid today.

Does this mean that we have found the optimum balance between:

  • The widest possible access to quality content for Europeans;
  • Fair remuneration for creators;
  • Sufficient incentives for those that invest in creation,
  • And legal certainty for content distributors?

I do not think so.

I am aware of the problems and the frustration of EU citizens when trying to access content on line.

  • Why is it that they cannot access services available in other Member States if they are willing to pay for it?
  • Why is it that too often they cannot watch their home news or favourite TV programs from the moment they step outside their country?

Consumers are not the only ones facing difficulties.

  • Think of newspaper publishers that see the content they produce being used by others to attract consumers on the net and generate advertising revenues.
  • Think of broadcasters that invest heavily in sports rights or other quality content and see their signal distributed in the Internet without their agreement.
  • And finally, think of those entrepreneurs that want to use the Single Market to launch new services and to innovate.

How long will it take the next Spotify or Deezer to obtain the licences they need to launch an online music service?

And what about tomorrow’s European equivalent to Netflix? Will it know where to start to get the online rights for all those European films which are gathering dust on a shelf somewhere?

Do not get me wrong: I am not in the business of blaming copyright for everything that does not work in the Internet.

I am also not in the business of denying that rules need to be modernised and adapted where the evidence is there.

What I want is a more rational debate.

A frank exchange to identify practical and sustainable solutions to precisely-identified problems.

We all know that there are many reasons for these problems. Many have nothing to do with copyright: inadequate broadband capacity, the commercial choices of service providers, the cost of payment services are only a few.

But I am determined to ensure that copyright is not among the obstacles. Copyright cannot be a barrier. It must be an enabler.

I want to ensure that it remains a modern and effective tool:

  • To support creation and innovation;
  • To enable access to quality content across the borders;
  • To foster investment in our economy, freedom of information and cultural diversity.

What do I mean by this ?


I want a copyright framework that facilitates the access of all Europeans to their heritage.

The Internet is a unique chance for a “second life” for works which are simply “out of distribution”.

Just think of the “Europeana” project, which went from 2 to 19 million items digitized between 2008 and 2011.

We can make the dissemination of these works easier. We can do it by a combination of limitations to rights – when justified – and easier licensing. Notably via collective management.

Member States should also play their role.

Together with my colleagues Neelie KROES and Androulla VASSILIOU, we have worked to make sure that the key building blocks are there:

  • The Directive on orphan works was adopted just a month ago. It establishes a limitation to copyright with cross border effects, a novelty in the copyright acquis. It will lead to the establishment of a European registry of orphan works. Another important novelty.

    In parallel, the Memorandum of Understanding on Out of Print Books is starting to be implemented: an outstanding example of how an innovative approach to licensing can benefit to all.

  • We also issued a Recommendation to Member States inviting them to step up their efforts for the digitisation of cultural material.

I continue to encourage Member States and stakeholders to make use of these building blocks.

I also believe that arrangements similar to the Memorandum of Understanding are the way forward to facilitate access to the thousands of European films that are forgotten because they are out of distribution.


I want a copyright framework that passes the “Single Market test”, making more content available to more citizens, cross-border.

Let’s face it: the digital revolution has not yet lived up to expectations in the European context. Here to read more.

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