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Europeans call for a single EU copyright to get more access to online services

Broadcasters would rather see more enforcement of existing rules instead

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Many European consumers are frustrated by frequently being denied access to online services outside of their home countries and are calling on the European Commission to implement a 'common copyright' in Europe. This pits them against publishers and broadcasters, who want enforcement of existing rules instead, a public consultation on EU digital copyright reform showed.

The difficulty consumers have when trying to access online services in other countries was one of the main problems highlighted in the public consultation. The goal of the consultation was to gather input from all interested parties on the Commission's review of the EU copyright rules.

Held between December and March, the consultation attracted broad interest from users, industry, rights holders and other parties, generating more than 9,500 replies and more than 11,000 messages, the European Commission said in a summary of the responses published Wednesday. The respondents were asked several questions, many of which addressed cross-border access to online content.

The vast majority of consumers who responded reported problems when trying to access online services in another EU countries, the Commission document showed. Consumers are regularly confronted with access restrictions depending on the geographic location of their Internet Protocol address. Some respondents said, for instance, that they are unable to watch certain YouTube videos because they are blocked by national royalty collection organizations, it said.

Others complained about the lack of access to popular video on demand services such as Netflix and the BBC iPlayer, which are only available in some EU countries. Music services such as iTunes and Spotify were also criticized for not being accessible in certain countries or for only featuring a limited online catalogue compared to what they offer in other countries.

Similar problems occur when consumers shop online. The separation of markets along national borders often leads to price discrimination and different conditions for identical products and services, they said. Some consumers noted that when they for example want to buy a video game, the price for the product may be higher on the version of the website in their own country than in versions of the website in other EU countries.

In order to solve these problems, some consumers responding to the consultation demanded more transparency regarding territorial restrictions on online content, because they consider the blocking of content to be mostly arbitrary and unpredictable.

But in order to really solve the problem, some respondents suggested a "common copyright" for Europe. Many consumers believe that a common copyright would do away with territorial restrictions and allow for content to be freely accessed, purchased and transferred across the entire EU, the consultation showed.

Respondents to the consultation are not the only ones pressing for such a single copyright regime. Academics who responded to the consultation said that differences between national copyright laws result in problems for cross-border services and that the problems could be solved most efficiently by a unified EU copyright system.

Not everybody agrees, however. The vast majority of publishers, producers and broadcasters do not support the idea of a single EU copyright, the document showed. They argued that such a project may take decades while it is very unlikely it will produce the intended results.

They are afraid that a common copyright would eliminate special safeguards and reduce right holders' level of protection. One key question is whether a single EU copyright would coexist with national copyrights or replace them, they said.

Commercial broadcasters stressed that a single EU copyright could undermine the viability of audio-visual productions, possibly creating problems for licensing content by territory. Instead of a single EU copyright, film producers and distributors proposed that the Commission prioritize the enforcement of existing rules.

Next, the Commission will use the results of the consultation to compose a white paper that is meant to examine whether or how further action on the current EU copyright system is needed. That white paper is expected to be released in the fall, the Commission said.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, open-source and online payment issues for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com



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