I have serious concerns with the Digital Single Market strategy presented by the European Commission today:
Simply introducing ‘roaming for Netflix’ will not end the discriminatory practice of geoblocking.
When people are turned away on the internet today because ‘this video is not available in your country’, the works they are trying to access are often not directly for sale but financed through advertising or public funding. Since the specific actions proposed in the Strategy apply only to ‘legally acquired/purchased content’, this is set to remain a regular nuisance in the lives of Europeans. That the Commission has neglected to include public broadcasters in their plans especially harms linguistic minorities, who frequently find themselves barred from accessing cultural content across borders. Applied to tangible goods, this situation would be unthinkable. It is indefensible to artifically reconstruct national borders in a common market and on a borderless medium. We must not compromise on a web free of barriers and discrimination!
The Strategy falls shamefully short of any meaningful harmonisation of copyright.
Commissioner Ansip has failed to meet President Juncker’s instructions to ‘break down national silos in copyright’ in shying away from tackling any of the underlying causes, particularly the fragmentation into 28 different laws with different catalogs of differently-interpreteted exceptions and limitations. These 28 laws will continue to hinder cross-border cultural exchange in Europe. People’s everyday online activities will remain mired in legal uncertainty – from sharing their own photos of public landmarks online to modern cultural practices like audiovisual quotation.
On these issues, the Commission is ignoring the voices of the vast majority of respondents to the copyright consultation it conducted last year. It is also tragically turning its back on libraries and archives, who are demanding reform to enable them to carry out their critical cultural mission in the information age. The Commission refuses to heed calls from European startups for whom the legal fragmentation presents a barrier to scaling up and competing with US internet giants. It fails to guarantee at a European level the protection of authors against unfair contracts or ensure cultural access for users with disabilities.
The Juncker Commission is continuing to talk tough on foreign online platforms, announcing a broad review of their practices in the Strategy. While healthy competition on the internet is a laudable goal, introducing a duty of care for intermediaries, as considered by the Commission, risks backfiring to actually cement the dominance of big players. According to Commission documents I have seen, plans for this duty of care include forcing internet platforms to actively scan user-uploaded content for illegal information. This would increase groundless mass surveillance, outsource law enforcement to private companies and introduce huge barriers to entry on the intermediaries market, preventing competition. Because there simply aren’t enough copyright lawyers in the world to check all the videos and pictures uploaded every day, platforms would have to increasingly rely on automatic detection algorithms that are known for their unreliability and would introduce huge barriers to market entry.
Finally, recent statements from Commissioner Oettinger defending geoblocking – even labeling a journalist a ‘Taliban’ for explaining its futility – call the consensus within the college into serious doubt. This is becoming a make-or-break moment for the way Juncker structured his Commission: Can the Vice President guarantee that the Commission is not of multiple minds on the Digital Single Market?
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