EU calls for consumer-friendly approach to file sharing

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EU calls for consumer-friendly approach to file sharing

Content regulation requires fresh thinking.

EU Commissioner for Telecoms and Media Viviane Reding has called on governments to be pragmatic and innovative in their approach to regulating internet content and piracy.

While the digital economy has the potential to help reverse the current economic downturn, this will only happen if Europe’s next generation feels included in the strategy and remains interested in the internet, said Reding.

The warning came during her Ludwig Erhard Lecture at the Lisbon Council in Brussels yesterday, where she outlined what she called The Digital Europe Strategy.

“Europe will need to create the right framework for ensuring effective competition and sound regulatory conditions in a well-functioning single market as well as incentives for innovation,” said Reding.

“We also need to make sure that in the end, consumers benefit from the digital economy. This is particularly important if we want to convince the digital natives to become the drivers of our digital economy,” she added.

Reding set out the need for a progressive approach to internet piracy.

“My first and most important priority for Digital Europe is to make it easier and more attractive to access digital content, wherever produced in Europe,” Reding said.

“In my view, growing internet piracy is a vote of no-confidence in existing business models and legal solutions. It should be a wake-up call for policy makers,” she added.

The issue has been hotly debated in the European Union in recent months.

The French tried to introduce a 'three strikes' measure that would kick file sharers and illegal downloaders off the internet for up to a year if they were third-time offenders, but the policy was aborted after the French Constitutional Council ruled against the legislation.

Meanwhile, last month’s Digital Britain report in the UK outlined plans to reduce illegal downloads by 80 per cent over the next two years by giving new powers to Ofcom that enable the body to work with internet service providers (ISPs) to target individuals sharing files with peers, and send them written warnings or help copyright holders take legal action.

The debate in Europe has been extremely polarised, with rights holders insisting every unauthorised download from the internet is a violation of intellectual property rights and therefore illegal, and others stressing that access to the internet should be viewed as a fundamental human right.

When Europe tried to reach a final conclusion on the matter in early May, the European Parliament voted against individuals' access to the internet being restricted.

Because the Parliament did not agree with the Council, the proposals recently entered the EU's conciliation procedure whereby the two bodies try to reach a compromise.

”I call on both sides of this debate to come to a very swift agreement,” said Reding in her speech.

Reding also called for a modern set of European rules that encourage the digitisation of books and the end of the ideological debate about Google Books.

“I do understand the fears of many publishers and libraries facing the market power of Google,” Reding said.

“But I also share the frustrations of many internet companies that would like to offer interesting business models in this field, but cannot do so because of the fragmented regulatory system in Europe,” she added.

“Let us be very clear: if we do not reform our European copyright rules on orphan works and libraries swiftly, digitisation and the development of attractive content offers will not take place in Europe, but on the other side of the Atlantic."

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