The European Commission (EC) adopted a directive on Monday establishing European copyright rules on the trade of books, films and music over the Internet.
The directive is intended to provide a secure online environment for cross-border trade in copyright-protected goods and services. While having little effect on the average consumer, it is also designed to clarify the rights of reproduction, distribution and communication to the public over the Web, as well as setting legal guidelines for antipiracy measures that copyright holders can implement.
"Not only is this directive the most important measure ever to be adopted by Europe in the copyright field but it brings European copyright rules into the digital age," said Frits Bolkestein, internal market commissioner, in a statement. "Europe's creators, artists and copyright industries can now look forward with renewed confidence to the challenges posed by electronic commerce."
Following months of lobbying, service providers and telecommunications operators will not be held liable for hosting cached Web sites -- when content is duplicated and stored locally by content providers in order to increase download time. Schools and colleges have also won important exemptions. Reproduction for teaching purposes, is allowed where a copyright holder has antipiracy software in place.
Robin Bynoe, partner at city law firm Charles Russell, is satisfied that the new directive sufficiently addresses the issue of Internet Service Provider (ISP) liability for hosting copyrighted material.
"Without the directive, every time copyrighted material is stored on a computer [whether that's hard drive or random access memory] a breach of copyright is involved. This includes any material passing through an ISP server," said Bynoe. He is hopeful the initiative will bring Net copyright law up to date.
"Copyright law was never intended for the Internet -- in Britain, anyone doing anything with material from the Internet is currently breaching copyright laws," explained Bynoe
European member states will be obliged to implement the directive within 18 months.
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