EU Wants DRM Interoperability, Cross-Border Licensing To Bolster Content Sector

The European Commission has today finalised its Creative Content Online In The Single Market paper and will publish proposals for pan-continental digital content regulations by the middle of 2008. The document had been in production since 2006, has been informed by two public consultations and is designed to let digital content companies compete more effectively by smoothing out perceived roadblocks in existing intellectual property and other rules.

The key proposals…

— The commission calls on the industry to set aside piracy concerns through “innovative and collaborative solutions” and make more content available digitally.

— It says there is “an underlying need” to tackle “the lack of multi-territory copyright licences, (which) makes it difficult for online services to be deployed across Europe and to benefit from economies of scale”. For example, member states can currently bar musicians from using royalties collection societies in other EU countries because granting that freedom is currently only voluntary under European law – big labels protest that’s hampering their ability to sign continent-wide online rights deals and favour the creation of all-Europe royalties super-collectors.

Frustrated by lack of interoperability in digital rights standards, it wants to draw up “a framework for DRM transparency“, which would include not just interoperability but ensuring customers are fully informed of DRM-specific content restrictions before they buy. Now that the music industry has begun to ditch DRM, however, it may be that this proposal is coming too late.

— The paper proposes “codes of conduct” be established between distributors, rightsholders and customers on the issue of illegal downloading and sharing. Sounds like a rather toothless measure, but could be just the sort of thing that lets ISPs monitor customers’ net usage for illegal P2P activity.

EU information society and media commissioner Viviane Reding said the paper is “the starting point for new EU actions to support development of innovative business models, cross-border services and consumer-friendly offers”.

Reding’s statement: “Europe’s content sector is suffering under its regulatory fragmentation, under its lack of clear, consumer-friendly rules for accessing copyright-protected online content, and serious disagreements between stakeholders about fundamental issues such as levies and private copying. We should give industry legal certainty, content creators a fair remuneration and consumers broad access to a rich diversity of content online.”

As the paper notes, an EC study carried out by Screen Digest et al (last year’s release) forecast European digital content sales will quadruple from 1.5 billion euros in 2005 to 8.3 billion euros by 2010 if the regime governing online royalties, copyright can be overhauled.

Next steps – Reding today kicks off another public consultation (deadline: February 29) and has set up an industry forum on the issue, after which she will draw up her recommendations to be put to the parliament and council mid-year.