Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Commissioner McCreevy on Copyright

Charlie McCreevy has been speaking to the European Parliament's Legal Affairs Committee (JURI) about company law, accounting & auditing and intellectual property rights. One the latter he had this to say:

"The second key area in my portfolio of issues under the responsibility of this Committee is Intellectual Property Rights. IP is a central competitive asset in Europe's ability to compete in the global economy. There are perhaps many reasons for this, the main one though is that through innovation, high quality design, effective branding and top quality production, EU companies have the ability to remain at the top of the value chain. We are progressing well on the initiatives announced before.

Let me start by looking at copyright protection for performers. European performers do not enjoy sufficient term protection. 95% of them do not earn enough from their profession and have to take up parallel jobs. I want all performers, whether featured artists or session musicians, to be able to earn more from their work. This allows them to spend more time doing what they do best – namely performing.

Authors enjoy copyright protection that lasts for 70 years after their death. Performers on the other hand enjoy protection for 50 years from the time of their performance. This means that an increasing number of them are seeing their performances fall into the public domain during their lifetimes. Not only do they no longer have a say in how their performances are used, but also their royalty payments and their airplay remuneration dry up.

And it usually happens at a time in their lives when they are getting older and not working as much. The music business is not the type that comes with a pension scheme. The principal beneficiaries of our proposal are the thousands of anonymous session musicians who contributed to sound recordings at that time.

That is why I propose is to extend protection for performers and sound recordings from the current 50 to 95 years. I aim to present a proposal for an amendment to the Directive on term protection by this summer.

By doing this we will go some way towards solving a number of problems. Firstly, performers will be able to control how their performances are used. This will allow them to object to their work being abused or used in a way they do not agree with. Secondly, they will continue to receive royalties and airplay remuneration for their entire lifetime, and as for authors, their heirs will benefit a little after their death.

Extending the term is not enough in itself. I also propose that each record company set up a special fund specifically devoted to session musicians. The company will have to pay a percentage of its increased revenues in the extended period into this fund. This will mean that the thousands of session musicians will increase their earnings.

Another area of work at present in the Intellectual Property field is private copying levies. You will be aware I re-launched work some months back on this issue. Some have suggested that I want to trade off term extension with private copying levies. I want to clearly dispel this rumour. Both initiatives have their own independent merit.

I perceive a clear need for the societies that administer the levies, and the industry that have to pay them, to get together and find a way out of their current disagreements. The latest round of consultation took place between February and April of this year. This consultation yielded some 120 replies, primarily from collecting societies that administer levies and from the industry that has to pay them. This response rate shows that the issue is still very much alive.

I have decided to organise a public hearing on 27 May to discuss the results of this public consultation. I would like to see this public hearing leading to the setting up of a structured dialogue between the stakeholders in the search for common ground in addressing this complex issue.

My ultimate wish would be that everyone that is concerned with levies could be able to agree on some basic principles to apply to the calculation of the different levies.

A third area of work in the IP field is Community trade mark fees. The Commission is currently preparing a proposal for a further substantial reduction of these fees. The Community Trademark Office in Alicante is an agency financing itself, independently from the Community budget. The Office is financially very well off and is generating considerable cash every year. This is partly due to its attractiveness, as companies continue to submit more and more trade mark and design applications. However, the Agency has to balance its revenues and expenditure. I intend to present this proposal in the next months. We have also started working on the evaluation of the trademark systems in the EU with a view to identify potential needs for improvement and future developments.

Work continues on the patent litigation system and on the Community patent. Since the Commission adopted the Communication "Enhancing a patent system in Europe" in April 2007, we have been actively working towards a consensus on the key elements among Member States in the Council under the German, Portuguese and now the Slovenian Presidency. I hope the encouraging progress made over the past year continues and it is something we can come back to a little further down the line.

Work is also continuing on the Green Paper on Copyright in the Knowledge Economy. The purpose of this Green Paper is to encourage debate on how copyright legislation can continue to serve the objective of the dissemination of knowledge for research, science and education – particularly in the online environment. The Green Paper aims to set out a number of issues connected with the role of copyright in the "knowledge economy", relying as it does not on natural resources such as land or minerals, but on intellectual resources such as know-how and expertise. It could be adopted just before or just after the summer break and it is intended to launch a public consultation.

A last point on intellectual property rights is the fight against counterfeiting and piracy. This is a key priority for the Commission. Last week's high-level conference marked the starting point for our efforts in order to find practical solutions to combat counterfeiting and piracy. We need all stakeholders to engage in working on practical and concrete ways to fight off fakes rather than camping on positions of principle. More regulation is certainly not the answer. I am grateful to the Parliament's support on this issue and for your active participation at the conference.

Finally, I wish to say a few words on the Annual Policy Strategy for 2009.

The time has come to assess how the existing copyright legislation works. It has been in place for more than 10 years now. The issue is whether and how we need to adapt thee rules to new technological and market developments. We will launch a consultation process next year on these questions to arm my successor with the necessary elements for deciding on concrete initiatives.

All of our actions are part of our single market policy. A key element of last year's Single Market Review is to make the Internal Market rules function on the ground. Member States' actions are crucial in achieving this objective. In this context we will prepare an initiative in early 2009 to give guidance to Member States on how to improve the practical functioning of the Internal Market.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me conclude. It is crucial that the European regulatory framework responds to market needs. Where there is no proven need for EU intervention, I will not make proposals or add further layers of EU requirements. We are updating existing legislation in the area of company law and intellectual property rights to make it simpler, flexible and more dynamic. Your support and active engagement are essential if we are to deliver what EU business needs."

There is nothing new in the statement but his final paragraph statement to the effect that "Where there is no proven need for EU intervention, I will not make proposals or add further layers of EU requirements" bears serious scrutiny. There is simply a massive black hole where empirical evidence informing intellectual property policy making should be. Solid evidence on whether IP regulations should be strengthened or weakened is sparse to non-existent. So, in other words, there is no proven need for EU intervention.

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