Europe’s digital chief hopes France can liberalise digital copyright

The lawmaker leading Europe’s digital agenda initiatives is hoping France can liberalise its digital copyright regime, after introducing a policy to warn and disconnect illegal content downloaders.

France’s Hadopi public agency, created to administer sending of warnings to alleged freeloaders, sent 755,015 first warnings to ISP subscribers in its first 14 months of operation. But now it is also conducting a review of whether France’s underpinning copyright law itself needs some technical reform.

European Commission digital agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes says she discovered the review, which she calls a “pioneering work”, “with pleasure” because:

“Combating piracy is not done only by coercive measures. You are all, in fact, aware that I am not a fan of measures that punish individuals or families by cutting off internet access.

“The best way to combat piracy is to encourage the legal supply to satisfy the legitimate expectations of users. . So we must be very ambitious when it comes to creating a regulatory framework that promotes the development of legal offers online.”

Kroes is urging interested French citizens to submit to the review’s consultation, ending May 15, because: “Every citizen in France – and not just the artists or companies – can advise on what would be legitimate exceptions to the French regime of copyright, given the current digital revolution.”

The sub-text of Kroes’ intervention is clear – she would rather focus on creating the licensing framework conditions to support adoption of legal services over and above just punishing those who use unlicensed alternatives.

Many content owners contend this carrot works best in conjunction with the stick of retribution. European parliamentarians in 2010 voted that disconnection from ISP services is against the spirit of universal access they want to maintain.

Kroes adds: “The European Commission also has a positive agenda and will soon come with a proposal on collective rights management, and this year will also review the 2001 directive on copyright. The exercise led by Hadopi is therefore very timely.”

Kroes’ team has been doing background work on simplifying bugbears like cross-border licensing of content, in order to drive up accessibility of and competition between legal online services.

The French review’s focus is on whether certain re-uses of content should be rendered exempt from being supposed as breaching copyright. That could include:

  • “temporary copying” intrinsic to streaming
  • format-shifting for private purposes
  • extracting works for educational use
  • introducing broad fair-use exemption.

These technicalities are unlikely to render flagrant copying of whole copyrighted works legal, however, meaning Hadopi will likely maintain its primary role.