Neelie Kroes: Digital technology and copyright can fit together


Stakeholders dialogue on copyright “Licences for Europe”

4 February 2013

New technologies have huge implications for the creative sector. And for the policies and regulatory structures that underpin it. As many of you will know, I have for a long time called for changes to those structures.

I was first confronted with this relationship as the Competition Commissioner at the time of the “CISAC decision”. That dealt with the old-fashioned licensing practices and territorial separation of markets by collecting societies. And that case left me unsatisfied.

Because the fact is, old practices need to adapt to new digital realities. That calls for real change and legal and practical solutions: competition tools are not enough for that.

So in 2008 I set up the Roundtable on Online Music, which gave rise to the Global Repertoire Database, making information on copyrighted works more coherent and accessible. Something long awaited. And more recently my colleague Michel Barnier proposed a new Directive on collective rights management which I hope will be agreed soon.

Looking back, I am happy to see the world changing and evolving. At first, digital technology met huge resistance. Huge effort was spent trying to adapt technology to fit prevailing market practices. Digital technology was seen as a threat to content instead of an opportunity.

That to me is the wrong approach. It certainly led to a lot of highly polarised debates. But, I would also say, it did not create any winners.

The right approach is the other way round: we should rather adapt practices to fit new digital opportunities. And today you can see the change, and the benefits, delivered by that. Just look at all those music streaming services, ever more popular and widespread. Some even talk of the “Spotify effect”: that music piracy is no longer a problem in Sweden, because there’s a good legal alternative. While for SACEM, in France, digital is now their third largest source of revenue, rising 40% in 5 years.

And it’s not just music embracing digital innovation. For TV, social networks are now used not just to interact, but actually to shape and design programmes. In the US, e-book sales have already overtaken hardbacks; and in the UK fiction market, e-book sales nearly doubled in just one year.

Thanks to technology, each artist, each creator, now has a range of tools for digital success. To help people discover new works, and help artists engage with, understand and expand their fan base. In the last few weeks, I have met many people from the creative sectors, and I know they share this positive outlook.

And it’s not just the creative sector that can benefit: scientists and researchers can too. Indeed “Licences for Europe” will deal directly with text and data-mining, automated research techniques that extract meaningful results from vast amounts of text or data.

That can boost research, and potentially save lives. But often it faces significant transaction costs. Because it requires not just a licence to access content, but the permission of each right holder just to copy and reformat each of the huge number of works.

Overall, there’s a lot to do. But general trends reassure me: my calls for change, starting over 5 years ago, were not in vain. You are here, so many stakeholders – from copyright owners, users, collecting societies, publishers, universities, and more – and you have reacted so positively and agreed to make things move. For me that shows two important things: first, change is needed; second, we are ready for it.

But technology, and society, are moving forward faster than our framework and licensing practices. I hear all the time about people who want to watch their favourite soap operas across borders, but can’t. About those trying to digitise our film heritage and preserve our cultural diversity – but who must deal with a pile of complex licensing requirements. About people afraid to innovate by re-using content. About researchers unable to compete, and citizens unable to benefit from their discoveries, because they can’t use the opportunities of technology.

Let me also say a couple of words about the wider context.

The Digital Economy is steaming ahead – in Europe, the internet is already worth over 4% of the economy, and growing seven times faster than GDP. Plus it has a huge job potential. We can’t ignore this in times of crisis and high youth unemployment. I want Europe, and every European, to benefit fully from this growth – getting us back on the path to prosperity.

That takes many things. We must stimulate investments in faster broadband. And we must boost demand for on line public services, like e-health.

But we also need content. Rich, vibrant online content is a big part of that digital economy: and that’s what “Licences for Europe” is about – helping you capture all the benefits of a connected, competitive continent. Ultimately, I want Europeans to enjoy a wide choice of lawful digital content, wherever they are: and for that content to be rewarded. Here to read more.

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