EU Vote on 1st June: Copy-left or Copy-right?

Some countries in the EU (notably France and Britain) have moved to adopt laws that grant powers to allow enforcement of copyright at the users end – making ISP have to cooperate with the identification and enforcement of alleged copyright infringements. On the 1st June the EU votes on which direction to take Europe – towards more copyright enforcement or towards more citizen’s digital rights:

The Gallo Report on the future of “intellectual property rights” (IPR) enforcement will be voted on June 1st, at 9 AM,1 in the Committee for Legal Affairs (JURI) of the European Parliament. Since no compromise was found between the members of the committee, two visions will frontally oppose. While the rapporteur — French sarkozyst EPP member Marielle Gallo — is pushing for more repression to tackle online file-sharing, some positive amendments from all the other political groups seek to end the dogmatic repression and call for the consideration of alternative schemes to fund creation.

This vote comes against the backdrop of a recent US Government Accountability Office report which was unable to conclude that fire-sharing was a negative or a positive thing regarding the creative industries:

[In a new report the US] government’s own internal watchdog took a close look at “efforts to quantify the economic effects of counterfeit and pirated goods.” After examining all the data and consulting with numerous experts inside and outside of government, the Government Accountability Office concluded (PDF) that it is “difficult, if not impossible, to quantify the economy-wide impacts.”

More specific studies that focus only on single industries don’t fare much better because “the illicit nature of counterfeiting and piracy makes estimating the economic impact of IP infringements extremely difficult.” And when it comes time to choose a substitution rate (how much of the infringing activity should be counted as a lost sale), we’re left only with “assumptions… which can have enormous impacts on the resulting estimates.”

Indeed, just measuring the activity of p2p networks is hard enough – then trying to extrapolate the economic behaviour of a diverse range of individuals is no mean task – and one that is often distorted by political barracking. This means that the only thing we can conclude with any certainty is that we are in a state of disruption – as Glyn Moody told the OKCon 2010:

A world of digital abundance is inevitable: only way to stop it, is to kill the human urge to share, or to shut down the Net. [It is not] the end for industries based on traditional analogue content: means their re-invention around new scarcities.

Here is an important editorial on the issue, by Françoise Castex and Catherine Trautman (translated excerpt from Liberation, Rebonds editorial, on May 25)

“For years, the entertainment industry has relied on these studies to provide justification for the protection of a now obsolete business model.

By assimilating not-for-profit file-sharing to counterfeiting, these industries are pushing for the criminalization of millions of Internet users – who are also consumers of discs, videos or other high-tech products. By doing so, they are turning artists against their own audiences, without providing creators and workers from this sector with a more promising economic future. But reality is not as easily quantifiable as it seems.

Indeed, while we’re aware of studies like theirs explaining how prejudicial file-sharing is to our economy, there are others which go in the exact opposite direction, such as the much more impartial reports of the Dutch and Canadian governments and the more recent one from the US Government Accountability Office.

For that reason, in the process of elaborating the so-called “Gallo Report” on the enforcement of intellectual property, the Socialists and Democrats of the European Parliament have asked the European Commission to launch an objective and independent impact assessment before taking any additional measure in this area.

In our conception of law and politics, there are freedoms and realities we cannot ignore. There are, on the one hand, the strong demand for an ever-wider access to our cultural heritage and the ever-stronger assertion of freedom of expression. And on the other hand, the necessary transformation of the modes of distribution and production of cultural works in the face of the new digital environment.

Sometimes, law should stop obstinately defending archaisms in order to face serenely the future lying ahead of us. We are aware of the important current problems of the movie, music, game and software industries. That is why it is urgent to stop answering them with a purely repressive logic, and to encompass the new practices enabled by digital technologies instead of vainly trying to eradicate them at the expense of consumers. These repressive schemes are ineffective, inadequate and disproportionate, and deeply affect the most fundamental rights of Internet-users.

In our capacity, we, European socialists, call on the European Commission to study the feasibility of a positive regulation of file-sharing along with supporting new funding and distribution models for creators.

It is also essential to rethink intellectual property. To this aim, we ask all stakeholders to get together, with consumer organizations, to find equitable solutions so as to take up the challenges faced by creation in the digital era.

This reform of copyright must be based on the respect of all the stakeholders in the artistic sector, in order to ensure an appropriate remuneration of all rights holders, as well as a real choice for consumers and a cultural diversity that lives up to the 21st century. »

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