Where to start the authors’ rights balancing act?

The Socialist group of the European Parliament organised a conference last week entitled “Copyright: What is Broken and How to Mend it?”.  Such debates are necessary if we are to escape the confrontation we have seen over the last year.

This is exactly what Hannes Swoboda said in his introductory remarks and was seconded by Sylvie Guillaume who also called for a balanced approach.  The event undermined itself straight away in this respect by pitching a clearly confrontational structure.  One rightsholder organisation (AEPO ARTIS) on the first panel against a who’s who of copyright reform organisations and academics. Why have a conference title with a question if the programme already presents a position as if adopted and the majority of invited panellists are clearly there to second the adopted position?

Remuneration of creators was raised by most panellists (despite only one organisation actually representing creators).  Why not get creators’ organisations or even a variety of individual creators to talk about what they want?  What is so fundamentally wrong with the copyright system that stops creators choosing which business models they use?  If they want to give their creations away for free, they can.  This year’s literary sensation 50 Shades of Gray hasn’t been held up by copyright.  Everyone wants to help the creators and save them from the abuses of the current system, yet only one panellist (the creators’ representative) suggested a serious concrete proposal: an unwaivable remuneration right for online uses of their works. The European Commission is understandably sensitive to arguments that seem to highlight the failings of the single market.  Multiple speakers attacked the private copying exception as well as territoriality an affront to the single market.  How is it that the single market is too complex in these areas, when some of these same companies do not seem to find it overly complicated when it comes to organising their fiscal affairs?

It seems that the S&D group has decided to sing from the Greens hymn book in calling for non-commercial uses to be made a legitimate exception and for private copying remuneration to be abolished.  “The 2001 copyright Directive has to be re-opened”, Luigi Berlinguer stated in his closing remarks. Political groups and all the stakeholders involved in the online markets of the future have a responsibility to conduct a balanced and inclusive debate, otherwise we will get nowhere.  Authors’ rights are too important to creators for them to be seized upon for opportunist political gain. JT