Last week, the EU Council of Ministers finally adopted the hotly debated European Copyright Directive (ECD), that updates EU legislation on
information technology, and was first proposed way back in 1997.
The Directive also delivers the needed connection to two World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) treaties.
But EU members are allowed until January 2003 before they must include the new rules in their national laws
and before making older contradicting rules and regulations obsolete.
That means that the going will become somewhat tougher for the likes of Kazaa and its peers, and also for the deep linkers, the news digesters and syndicators, but how much and how soon for the time being still depends on
the country they are dealing with - and within the EU variations on this content theme are still rife.
The new deal allows for some national differences.
The main element of the ECD is the principle of fair and balanced comparison of the interests of the copyright owner and those of other parties such as internet providers, consumers, producers of equipment, libraries, and publishers.
The timing is excellent, because publishers are more motivated than ever to guard their content as they need payment for its usage.
Industry watchers doubt however that come January 2nd, the courts will reopen to find a crowd of plaintiffs all waving the ECD on their doorsteps, because member states risk little by coming on board late.
It is clear however that the copyright gates are closing slowly but surely.
The Brussels' lobbyist for the large publishing and music industries such as Bertelsmann, News Corp, Elsevier and AOL Time Warner have successfully put many an extra entry on their expense accounts, and have managed to limit, but not eradicate, the lesser lobbied interests of authors.
But authors, performers and publishers did share an interest: together they wanted to get a more restrictive definition of "private copying", but did not get as much as they liked.
They encountered lesser heard consumer representatives arguing for knowledge dissemination and freedom of speech, a principle particularly popular in the UK, the Netherlands and France, but less in southern Europe.
Nevertheless, the ECD points one way only: it strengthens the rights of copyright owners as well as their ability to protect their material by
technological means, just as the much hated new Sony CDs with computer crashing capabilities do.
On their jackets they clearly say what they will do
if you don't play them in a real audio CD-player - and the EU now sanctions this.
The Directive also lessens copyright infringement and the legal defense of it, such as the right of quotation, electronic clipping, deep linking, and
the varying rights to dissemination of news, but not of texts with an artistic value. Discussions on these subjects have been going on for years
in many European countries, especially in those that already had some kind
of scheme to provide to each their own, such as Germany.
There, a tax is levied on for instance empty audio and video tapes, and the proceeds are divided among holders of music copyrights.
But this system was not imported by many other EU members, so that new schemes had to be thought
up. In Holland, universities have made deals with publishers concerning
photocopies: they pay publishers a small sum for every copy made, regardless of content, and these sums are partitioned between publishers and authors.
The ECD is meant to harmonise all reproduction and communication rights,
especially the rights to publish and distribute works. The Directive also smoothens the essential connection to the WIPO Copyright treaty and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty (TIEP), that guarantees copyright owners protection of their works in non-EU countries, such as the US, Russia, and
in the future, even China.
Taking into account the possibilities that new technologies offer; the EU
member states should agree to exclusive author's rights concerning the reproduction of their work.
They must also provide for a complete listing of exceptions and limitations to these rights.
Under the ECD, members states can still allow certain exceptions or limitations, such as for educational and scientific purposes, for public
institutions and archives, for use by the disabled, for public security uses and for uses in administrative and judicial proceedings.
In these cases, the states can provide for fair compensation for copyright owners or holders.
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