The European Parliament's legal affairs committee is taking a strong stance against geo-blocking online content in a report on copyright reform that is largely in sync with the Commission, which is drafting new legislation intended to tackle issues that have arisen in the digital world.
Current copyright rules date to 2001, so there's an urgency around making them current in order to promote access to digital information and services across borders. The report by the legal affairs committee will go to the entire Parliament for a vote and, when adopted, be considered an opinion that the Commission should take into account when writing the new laws. These reports are a strong signal as to what will pass when those draft laws are eventually presented to the Parliament for approval.
While the Commission has already indicated opposition to geo-blocking, the draft report contains strong language in favor of protecting the rights of "cultural minorities" living in the EU to access content in their native languages, which they are now often prevented from doing because of geo-blocking practices.
The report rejected the idea of a "snippet tax" that targets aggregators like Google News, but also declined to recommend allowing producers of online video and audio content to use bits of content within their work that are otherwise copyright protected.
The report does call for potentially expanding the liability of Internet service providers and online platforms when their users infringe copyrights. An approved amendment says that the legal status of these intermediaries should be clarified so that content creators and rightsholders are fairly paid for their work.
The committee also addressed an area not yet touched on by the Commission in its digital market plan; the adopted version of the report calls on the Commission to make it easier for libraries to lend out e-books and digitize their collections.
The report is scheduled to be voted on by the Parliament in July. The Green party expects the Commission to present a legislative proposal on copyright reform by the end of the year.
One adopted amendment with which Julia Reda, the Member of the European Parliament who drafted the report, was displeased concerns protection for the creators of public artworks that might be photographed or captured on video or film. The amendment states that any such images used commercially must get permission from the author of the work. Whether such a far-reaching requirement survives in the final opinion issued by the Parliament is open to question.
The report was slammed for its lack of ambition by IT industry group Digital Europe, which said that it is a missed opportunity for reform and bows too much to the demands of copyright holders who don't want significant reform. The group pointed to the need for immediate reform of rules governing private copying of content.
Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, online payment issues as well as EU technology policy and regulation for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org