After ACTA, EU kicks off 'Licences for Europe' copyright reform

Europe is proposing a talk first, legislate later strategy for copyright reform.

The European Commission has unveiled 'Licences for Europe', an initiative that encourages content stakeholders and consumers to work out short-term solutions to Europe's copyright issues ahead of creating legislation.

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Launched in Brussels on Monday by the EC's digital agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes, the initiative is Europe's second crack at copyright reform after it roundly rejected the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) treaty last year .

The initiative will attempt to answer how copyright laws can be updated and harmonised across Europe by encouraging industry and consumers to negotiate short-term solutions to copyright as a first step and rely on legislation to settle longer term problems. 

One option put forward yesterday by the EU's commissioner for education Androulla Vassiliou was "one click" licensing for granting licences. 

Kroes had flagged six areas of copyright reform the EC was to focus on after ACTA's collapse  last year, which have been boiled down to four questions under Licences for Europe and concern cross-border portability, online availability of films, content re-use, and how to deal with text and data mining.

"I am convinced that we can provide responses to each of these questions on an essentially contractual or technological basis," said Michel Barnier, commissioner for internal market and services.

The initiative is aiming to strike a balance between fostering innovation in digital services and ensuring copyright owners are rewarded while avoiding the need to implement tough penalties for copyright.

Kroes urged Europeans "not to prejudge the outcome" and the legislation that may arise through the process.

"So we are launching this initiative to show technology and copyright can go together. I am not too keen on heavy-handed legislative measures. They aren't always needed; and sometimes, pragmatic and easy-to-implement solutions are just as valid. The goal is to adjust current practices or get rid of costly inefficiencies," said Kroes.

Kroes pointed to the dampening effect Spotify has had on music piracy in Sweden and the growth of e-book sales the UK to illustrate the internet was not an inherent threat to copyright and conversely could be a valuable discovery tool that benefited both creative industries and scientists.

'A parody of debate'

Although Licences for Europe appears to be a novel attempt to divert copyright conflict away from treaties such as ACTA and the newer Trans-Pacific Partnership Treaty, some groups are not happy with the initiative.

"EU citizens must engage with their representatives and urge them to courageously call for reforming a copyright regime gone mad" — Jérémie Zimmermann

Digital rights group La Quadrature du Net slammed the initiative as a "parody of debate" dominated by the entertainment industry.

"It is a shame that the European Commission, led by French commissioner Michel Barnier, is playing the industry's game instead of fostering the general interest and listening to the millions of citizens who opposed ACTA as well as the European Parliament which massively rejected it," Jérémie Zimmermann, spokesperson for the group, said in a statement.

"More than ever, EU citizens must engage with their representatives and urge them to courageously call for reforming a copyright regime gone mad, which has come to threaten our society's fundamental values, users' freedoms and the very structure of a free internet. No citizen should agree to the terms and conditions of these Licences for Europe."