In April of this year, we circulated an update detailing proposed changes to copyright law in the EU. These changes were presented in a draft report prepared by Pirate Party Member Julia Reda - the report has since been subject to a series of amendments and votes by a number of committees including the Legal Affairs Committee, and now the European Parliament has published a revised form of the report.
The next step is for Commissioner Oettinger to present a specific legislative copyright reform proposal, which is planned to happen by the end of this year.
The following issues have been subject to much discussion and debate:
Images of public buildings and art works
The most controversial topic was a proposal made by the Legal Affairs Committee, during its review of the report, to restrict Freedom of Panorama. This proposal would result in the need to acquire a licence from the rights holder to publish and create images and photographs of public buildings and art works - arguably an incredibly anachronistic proposal. The European Parliament voted to retain the current status quo and reject the proposal, which thankfully means we can continue to upload holiday pictures onto social media without any restrictions!
Improve cross-border accessibility to culture and knowledge
The report called for a reduction of geo-blocking, a measure that denies user access to certain content services and copyright protected material on geographical grounds. The European Parliament has urged the Commissioner to propose ways to improve the cross-border accessibility of services and copyright content. The European Parliament's reason for this is that it does not want to allow a geo-blocking system to evolve which prevents cultural minorities living in EU member states from accessing existing content or services in their language.
The report also favours enhancing portability rules that would allow users to transport content from one device to another. It asks the Commissioner to consider new exceptions for libraries and scientists when dealing with digital works, for example allowing e-lending.
Ancillary copyright for press publishers
The European Parliament has voted against the proposal to have an ancillary copyright for press publishers - an amendment introduced by German Conservative Members of Parliament who wanted to mirror what has been called the German "Google-law" at EU level. This ancillary copyright would have the effect of requiring online search engines to pay for the use of even small snippets of content from publications. German publishers have experienced first-hand what happens under such a system: when Google stopped using excerpts from publications in order to avoid paying the required licence fees, German newspapers and magazines found that the number of visitors to their sites dropped dramatically. As a result, German publishers ended up offering Google a free licence to their content so that the search engine would once more display excerpts in its search results and thus drive traffic to the publisher's site. Reda states that "this should be the final blow to the idea of introducing at the European level a law to cross-finance news publishers which has already failed spectacularly in Germany and Spain."
Length of copyright protection
One blow for Reda was that her proposal to reduce copyright protection from 70 to 50 years was rejected by the European Parliament, a decision that Reda felt lacked boldness.
The report undoubtedly makes moves to modernise EU copyright law and bring it more in line with the digital age, with Reda stating that she "welcomes these instructions to Commissioner Oettinger". Reda has voiced concern over the fact that the attack on freedom of panorama was supported by the majority of the Legal Affairs Committee - something which she thinks demonstrates a need for many MEPs to understand the cultural shift caused by the internet and its consequences for copyright. Reda feels that much work remains to be done until we have a European copyright framework fit for the digital age, but progress is steadily being made.
We will continue to update you on how the proposals for EU copyright reform are progressing.