At Forum d'Avignon in, well, Avignon, France, Neelie Kroes, currently European Commissioner for Digital Agenda, held a speech about the past, present, and future of copyright. Where the US government, including Obama and Biden, have squarely sided with big content, opposing any form of copyright reform, Kroes sides with those who want to massively reform copyright to modernise the concept.
In her speech, Kroes argues that copyright as it exists today has not adapted to the arrival of the internet, and that the content industry has failed to capitalise on the changing market. Despite the fact that thanks to the internet the world has gotten smaller than ever before, making it extremely easy for artists to get their creations to as many people as possible, copyright law and the content industry stand in their way.
"Yet, it does not mean there are no more obstacles to sharing cultural and artistic works on the net," Kroes explains, "All revolutions reveal, in a new and less favourable light, the privileges of the gatekeepers of the 'Ancien Régime'. It is no different in the case of the internet revolution, which is unveiling the unsustainable position of certain content gatekeepers and intermediaries. No historically entrenched position guarantees the survival of any cultural intermediary. Like it or not, content gatekeepers risk being sidelined if they do not adapt to the needs of both creators and consumers of cultural goods."
Contrary to big content and the Obama administration, Kroes does not believe the internet will kill any media - just as cinema did not kill theatre, and television did not kill radio. In fact, she believes the opposite is true: the internet is a motor for the content industry, not a brake.
"Look at the statistics: people who spend more time on the internet tend to read more, and go to cinema and to concerts more often than the population as a whole. Studies show that nowadays, people increasingly watch TV and browse the Internet at the same time – simply to get more information about something that intrigued them. And they can share their thoughts instantaneously with their friends," Kroes details, "This is just the beginning. Because convergence means creative freedom and more inspirational content ready to meet the expectations of a public that evolves with art and content."
She continues by stating that while copyright served the world of art well for over 200 years, copyright is not an end in and of itself. Copyright is supposed to ensure the continued creation of new works, but instead, we see today that copyright is actually stifling art instead of promoting it.
"Today our fragmented copyright system is ill-adapted to the real essence of art, which has no frontiers," Kroes argues, "Instead, that system has ended up giving a more prominent role to intermediaries than to artists. It irritates the public who often cannot access what artists want to offer and leaves a vacuum which is served by illegal content, depriving the artists of their well deserved remuneration. And copyright enforcement is often entangled in sensitive questions about privacy, data protection or even net neutrality."
Are you still with me? Can you handle that much common sense from one (1) politician? No? Well, I'm sorry to disappoint you - but I've got more.
"It may suit some vested interests to avoid a debate, or to frame the debate on copyright in moralistic terms that merely demonise millions of citizens. But that is not a sustainable approach. We need this debate because we need action to promote a legal digital Single Market in Europe," Kroes continues, "My position is that we must look beyond national and corporatist self-interest to establish a new approach to copyright. We want 'une Europe des cultures' and for this we need a debate at European level."
The European Commission is currently working on a number of proposals regarding orphaned works and the transparency and governance of collective management societies (organisations that collect royalties). They are also looking into the problems caused by national copy levies, as well as into multi-territorial and pan-European licensing.
Let me send you off to bed with this.
"Instead of a dysfunctional system based on a series of cultural Berlin walls, I want a return to sense. A system where there is scope to create new opportunities for artists and creators, and new business models that better fit the digital age,"Kroes concludes, "Speaking for myself, I will remember artists and citizens with each step forward. My sight will remain firmly on 'une Europe des cultures'. Artists cast light on our world; our job is to let the light shine in."
Obama and Biden, take note. You don't mess with Nikkelen Neelie.