End well: this won't. European Copyright Society wants one EU law to rule 'em all

Not as if members have hugely divergent IP traditions, right?

Copyright laws in every EU country should be the same, the European Copyright Society (ECS) has said.

In a letter to the European Commission's digital commissioner Günther Oettinger (4-page 499KB PDF), the academic think tank on copyright said "actual Union-wide unification … of copyright" as opposed to simply further harmonising the existing EU copyright regime would have "several major advantages".

"While copyright unification may be considered undesirable, or perhaps too drastic, by certain stakeholders and national legislatures, this is in our opinion the only way a fully functioning digital single market for copyright-based goods and services can ultimately be achieved. It is in fact the logical next step for the EU legislature to take in this field," the ECS said.

"A European copyright law would establish a truly unified legal framework, replacing the multitude of often opaque and sometimes conflicting national rules that presently exists. It would have instant Union-wide effect, thereby creating a single market for copyrights and related rights, both online and offline," it said.

The ECS also claimed that a European copyright law would "enhance legal security and transparency, for rights owners and users alike, and greatly reduce transaction and enforcement costs" and "enable the EU legislature to re-establish itself as a global leader in copyright norm setting".

However, intellectual property law expert Iain Connor of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that it could take at least 10 years before agreement is reached on a single EU copyright law.

"Copyright is being harmonised in a piecemeal manner and so a proposal for full harmonisation has merit as the next logical step," Connor said. "However, copyright is far more complex than the other areas of intellectual property law that have been harmonised so far. In the limited areas where harmonisation has taken place, for example as part of the EU's Information Society Directive, the provisions have caused much controversy and led to numerous references to the Court of Justice of the EU."

"Therefore, the negotiations for a unifying Copyright Directive will take very many years to conclude and will not satisfy the divergent stakeholder groups which range from the traditional rights holder community to the anti-copyright lobby led by the likes of The Pirate Bay. Accordingly, I would not expect the negotiations to conclude anytime soon and would not expect to see full harmonisation for at least another decade or more," he said.

Oettinger backs uniform rules... in principle

The Commission set out plans to "modernise EU legislation on copyright" in its recently published work programme for 2015 and Oettinger has expressed his preference for "uniform rules" on copyright to apply across the trading bloc.

Existing EU copyright rules are predominantly set out in the Information Society Directive of 2001. However, the Directive provides flexibility to individual EU countries on how they implement the rules. This has led to different approaches to copyright being applied by different countries, which the ECS said had caused problems.

"Despite almost 25 years of harmonisation of copyright in the EU, copyright law in Europe has essentially remained national law," the ECS said. "Each member state still has its own law on copyright and neighbouring (related) rights that applies strictly within its own territory. This territoriality has led to fragmentation of markets along national borderlines, critically impeding the establishment of a digital single market for creative content, and undermining the Union’s international competitiveness."

The ECS admitted that the unification of EU copyright laws is a medium to long term project, but said that the length of time it will take to establish a uniform and directly applicable single EU copyright law "is no reason not to initiate it".

It said: "Quite to the contrary: given its potentially positive impact on the European creative economy, work on such a project should, in our opinion, be initiated as soon as possible."

The Commission previously held a consultation seeking industry views on whether to completely harmonise copyright laws across the EU, which prompted a wide range of views and responses, including from the UK government and Google.

A number of amendments were made last year to UK copyright rules, including the introduction of new exceptions to copyright into UK law. A number of UK music industry bodies are, however, challenging the new private copying exception that has been introduced.

The right for EU countries to implement certain exceptions to copyright is set out in the Information Society Directive. Prior to the 2014 reforms, the UK government had elected to pick and choose a more limited number of copyright exceptions to implement than is provided for under the Directive, as individual EU countries have the freedom to do under the framework.

Copyright © 2015, Out-Law.com

Out-Law.com is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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