European Union Consumer Protection Commissioner Meglena Kuneva has joined Information Society and Media Commissioner Viviane Reding in the fight to introduce pan-European content licensing. The two Commissioners presented a plan to European Parliament in Strasbourg this week to bring legislation to the European Parliament this year. The plan also includes provisions to harmonize private copying and other aspects of consumers’ digital rights throughout the EU member states.
This initiative extends the Content Online and the Single Market initiative that Commissioner Reding started two years ago. Her group pushed for pan-European licensing in a Recommendation issued last year. The next step is a Directive that the 27 EU member states are obligated to implement in their national laws.
Such a process could take years; for example, the EU Copyright Directive of 2001 was not implemented in all EU countries until several years later. Yet Commissioner Kuneva’s involvement could push the process forward.
The national copyright collecting societies are likely to mount stiff opposition to the plan; opposition will also come from other official quarters within many EU member states. But the EC has already taken steps to erode the restrictive power of the national collecting societies, and voices are finally beginning to be heard about how the lack of one-stop licensing is a serious barrier to getting online content services up, running, and competitive in Europe.
Imagine if the United States government decided that statutory content licensing was a “states’ rights” issue, like guns and alcohol, and left each state to decide its own licensing terms — thus requiring services like iTunes and Amazon to make licensing deals with 50 different entities. That’s somewhat analogous to the effort that digital content services have to make in order to operate throughout Europe.
The two EC Commissioners have taken an important step in removing barriers that hamper innovation in legitimate content services in Europe. Yet there’s a long road ahead in solving this problem; whether it will be solved quickly enough remains to be seen.