Media Sans Frontières

Licensing Before content owners get too excited about the possibility of mandatory Internet content filtering coming to Europe, highlighted in a Reuters story Monday based on leaked portions of a pending European Commission report on intellectual property rights, they might want to read through the full document now that it’s available on the EC website.

Any action that could involve stepped up enforcement of copyrights online by Internet service providers referenced in the report would be limited for now to studying “ways to create a framework allowing, in particular, combating infringements of IPR via the internet more effectively.” Any formal proposals to emerge from that studying,  moreover, which won’t even begin until 2012, will “not alter the existing rules on limited liability for certain types of ISP activities,” according to FAQ provided by the commission.

According to the report itself, “The Commission will ensure that such amendments respect all fundamental rights recognised by the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, in particular also the rights to private life, protection of personal data, freedom of expression and information and to an effective remedy.”

That doesn’t sound quite so filter friendly as the initial stories based on a partial leak made it sound.

The section on enforcement, in fact, is practically a footnote to a larger and far-more ambitious set of proposals and recommendations in the report that are as likely to ruffle content owners’ feathers as soothe them.

The  main thrust of the report is an effort to make good on the EU’s promise of a single, frictionless market for goods and services across the 27-country bloc by making it easier for citizens and technology developers to license and use music, movies, books and other copyrighted material while nudging copyright owners toward multi-territorial, pan-EU licensing of their content.

Among the recommendations and proposals:

  • [I]n 2011, the Commission will submit proposals to create a legal framework for the collective management of copyright to enable multi-territorial and pan-European licensing. While the focus on the cross-border management of copyrights in the online environment is of particular importance in view of the development of a digital marketplace for cultural goods and services, attention should also be given to the governance structures of other forms of collectively managed rights.
  • To foster the development of new online services covering a greater share of the world repertoire and serving a greater share of European consumers, the framework should allow for the creation of European “rights brokers” able to license and manage the world’s musical repertoire on a multi-territorial level while also ensuring the development of Europe’s cultural diversity. To that end, an enforceable European rights management regime that facilitates cross-border licensing should be put in place.
  • The Commission, in 2011, will launch a consultation on online distribution of audiovisual works with a view to reporting in 2012. The consultation will address copyright issues, video-on-demand services, their introduction in the media chronology, the cross-border licensing of broadcasting services, licensing efficiency and the aspect of promotion of European works.
  • In 2011, the Commission intends to proceed by way of a two-pronged approach to promote the digitisation and making available of the collections of European cultural institutions (libraries, museums and archives). One strand is the promotion of collective licensing schemes for works still protected by copyright but no longer commercially available (works that are “out-of-commerce”). The other is a European legislative framework to identify and make available so-called “orphan works.” (Emphasis mine.)

All of the commission’s proposals would need to be approved by the European Parliament before they could take effect and there’s no guarantee they would survive that process in their current forms. But it’s pretty clear that the 27-country EU is moving toward a licensing system in which many aspects of the media business that historically had been within the discretion and control of copyright owners — the territorial scope of licenses, the sequence and timing of release windows, the right to withhold content from the market — will be determined by governments and regulated by transnational agencies.

That’s not nothing. Media companies need to be alert to what could be radical changes to current business models and practices.

Further reading:

EU Lays Out Plans on Piracy, Music Rights