EU Proposes New Digital Copyright Laws

Ministers from the 15 nations of the European Union (EU) adopted a copyright directive Monday aimed at updating copyright laws for the digital age to prevent Internet and high-tech piracy of music, books and other copyrighted works.

The ministers approved the so-called Copyright Directive by consensus. The member nations now have 18 months to ratify and implement the new regulations.

“This is a very significant achievement,” said EU Internal Market Commissioner Frits Bolkestein. “Not only is this directive the most important measure ever to be adopted by Europe in the copyright field, but it brings European copyright rules into the digital age.”

The European Commission (EC) said that the directive will “stimulate creativity” by ensuring adequate copyright protection for books, films and other creative materials.

Delicate Balance

The proposed law, according to the EC, will provide a “secure environment for cross-border trade in copyright protected goods and services, and will facilitate the development of electronic commerce in the field of new and multimedia products and services.”

The legislation comes after three years of debate among consumer groups, artists and the music industry about how best to protect artists’ rights in the digital environment. According to the EC, the directive strikes a “delicate balance” between the needs of artists and the needs of consumers.

“Europe’s creators, artists and copyright industries can now look forward with renewed confidence to the challenges posed by electronic commerce,” Bolkestein said. “At the same time, the Directive secures the legitimate interests of users, consumers and society at large.”

Under the proposed law, the online swapping of copyrighted music files for free would be outlawed, but consumers would be allowed to make a limited number of copies for private use. The Directive also provides legal protection to the use of anti-copying devices.

Treaty Time

Passage of the Copyright Directive will enable the EU to ratify the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Treaties.

Dubbed the “Internet Treaties,” the WIPO Copyright Treaty, which protects authors’ rights online, and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty were adopted by WIPO in December 1996.

Although created for the purposes of adopting the Internet Treaties, the EU’s Copyright Directive is comparable to the comprehensive copyright law revisions adopted in the U.S. in 1998, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

U.S. vs. EU

Although similar, U.S. and EU copyright laws are not identical. One noticeable difference is that the EU law does not include a “fair use” provision similar to that found in U.S. copyright law.

The “fair use” doctrine says that in certain cases copyrighted material can be used without the permission of the copyright holder for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship or research.

The law holds that the determining factors of fair use are: the nature of the copyrighted work, the purpose of the copying, the amount and importance of the work to be copied, and the effect that such a copy would have on the marketability of the original.

Exceptions the Rule

By contrast, the EU doctrine includes a laundry list of exceptions that allow for, among other exceptions, copying for technical reasons, personal use and archival purposes. However, the EU doctrine states that the exceptions are optional. Member states do not have to adopt all of the exceptions.

The EU doctrine also includes a “fair compensation” provision, requiring that artists be fairly paid for the use of their copyrighted material under certain of the exceptions, including private copying and broadcasting.

Member states would be given flexibility in enforcing this provision and determining the “the precise form of such compensation,” the directive said.

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