A few days ago, the European Commission launched a new consultation on its report regarding the “Intellectual Property Rights” (IPR) enforcement directive (IPRED). The Commission’s services who drafted this report (Internal Market Directorate General) exhibit a profound misunderstanding of current technologies, as they seek to apply an unadapted copyright regime to this new digital era. That’s why it is so important that all interested citizens and NGOs take the time to submit an answer to the consultation, to tell the Commission to turn away from dogmatic repression and instead embrace the promises of the online creative economy.
Some context: What’s wrong with the EU approach to copyright?
After the episode of ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) and the Gallo report, the Commission is engaging in a major effort to toughen up copyright enforcement policies in the digital environment. The Internal Market DG is once again refusing to adopt an open-minded, evidence-based approach to deal with file-sharing, Instead, the new reports of the future of the EU’s IPR policies call for an increased repression against file-sharing and other tools for sharing culture online.
The Commission denies the facts: Impartial studies show that file-sharing has either a neutral or positive impact on the cultural economy. Concerts revenues have never been so high, and people massively go to movie theaters. Studies also suggest that file-sharers are the biggest consumers of culture and point to a positive effect of sharing on cultural diversity. The Internet has created a new cultural ecosystem where people can cooperate to disseminate cultural works, becoming their own distribution channels and bypassing the traditional gate-keepers of a highly concentrated media industry. And after 10 years of a brutal war on sharing, people still find ways to share and access culture, thereby boosting creativity with the diversification of cultural formats and the democratization of cultural production (as shown, for instance, by the advent of the remix culture).
But the Commission’s Internal Market DG is much too close to the copyright lobbies to start engaging in a true reflection over the future of copyright in the digital environment. All alternatives to repression, such as the Creative Contribution proposed by Philippe Aigrain (whereby a small fee would be paid by Internet subscribers to fund creation, while file-sharing would be recognized) or those pointed out in the Charter for Innovation and Creativity, are simply ignored by the Commission and other policy-makers, who are stuck in an archaic conception of the cultural economy.
It would not matter that much if this lack of understanding didn’t undermine the fundamental rights of many EU citizens and Internet users across the world. In the name of an obsolete copyright regime, legal threats are now looming over ISPs, such as search engines, hosting providers or Internet access providers, to force them to take the role of copyright police and start automatically filtering out the Net. Such extra-judicial policies are a clear violation of the rights of the public to access culture, and even more importantly the fundamental freedom of communication and the right to privacy. They are unacceptable in democracies that abide by the rule of law. To complete this dark picture, the Commission’s report is already providing justification for the criminalization of non-commercial file-sharing, by announcing the upcoming revival of the directive on the criminal enforcement of “IPR”.
How did we end up here?
- In September 2009, the Commission’s Internal Market DG released a communication in which it calls for cooperation the “cooperation” on Internet service providers (like search engines and access providers) in the fight against the sharing of cultural works online. As we pointed out at the time, the communication already called for more repression without distinguishing between the very different types of infringements. Since then, similar wording was introduced in ACTA, as the negotiations touched upon ACTA’s “digital chapter”.
- A year later, the Parliament adopted the Gallo report, which embodied its own view on the matter of patent, trademark and copyright enforcement and was meant to be the Parliament’s response to the Commission’s communication. After a very polarized and intense debate, during which an important part (though still a minority) of the Members of the Parliament called for alternatives to repression, the majority settled for a report that included most of the entertainment industry’s lies about file-sharing. The Gallo report was immediately used by the proponents of three-strikes schemes, such as Nicolas Sarkozy, to argue that the EU Parliament backed tough sanctions against file-sharers.
- After the vote of this report, the Commission has been extremely quick to come up with this biased evaluation of IPRED. Clearly, the goal is to push for a revision of IPRED that would again go up the scale of repression. Indeed, its very likely that the Commission will propose provisions forcing ISPs to cooperate with the copyright lobby so as to police the network, along with other repressive measures..
Such an automated extra-judicial enforcement of civil and criminal sanctions against file-sharers must be stopped, and that’s why YOU MUST WRITE TO THE EU COMMISSION TO URGE IT TO PROTECT YOUR FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS AND STOP ITS STUPID WAR ON THE SHARING OF CULTURE.