Copyright reform: Europe works on finer stick-carrot balance

After the disaster that was ACTA, the European Commission has returned to the many thorny issues that surround copyright reform. New legislation, possibly around enforcement, is likely to show up within the next couple of years.

Copyright laws, including those surrounding punishment for infringement, may be revised in Europe over the next couple of years.

Europe has already seen reform around one or two specific areas such as orphan works, but overall, copyright has not seen an overhaul to bring it in line with the digital age. The European Commission, which is now picking up the pieces after the disaster that was ACTA , said on Wednesday that it wanted this situation to change.

The new drive is reportedly spearheaded by digital agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes, who was somewhat sidelined during the ACTA debate — the doomed treaty was pushed by trade commissioner Karel De Gucht. As such, much of the focus is on creating a digital single market within the EU.

The overall goal seems to be one of balancing the carrot and the stick more than is currently the case in the fight against piracy.

According to the Commission, a truly modern copyright framework would make sure rights-holders get properly rewarded for their work, while giving consumers easier access to legal downloading and streaming services.

At the moment, the digital market is fragmented across Europe. A customer in the UK, for example, may see albums in their version of iTunes that another customer in Germany cannot see in theirs. Laws differ across the union about the legality of copying one's own purchased music from a CD to an iPhone, and streaming services that are available in one country may be blocked as soon as the user steps over one of the EU's many notional internal borders.

There will be two main streams in the fresh reform push. The first will involve a "structured stakeholder dialogue", starting in early 2013 and trying to sort out six urgent issues:

  • Cross-border portability of content
  • User-generated content
  • Data-mining and text-mining
  • Private copy levies
  • Access to audiovisual works
  • Cultural heritage

All this is aiming for "market-led solutions", but the Commission has not ruled out new legislation.

The second stream will involve market studies, impact assessments and legal drafting, in preparation for likely legislation. The four topics in this stream are:

  • Mitigating the effects of territoriality in the internal market
  • Agreeing appropriate levels of harmonisation, limitations and exceptions to copyright in the digital age
  • How best to reduce the fragmentation of the EU copyright market
  • How to improve the legitimacy of enforcement in the context of wider copyright reform