It’s normal to hear copyright industry lobbyists complain about the European Commission’s hasty reform agenda – but not people who the commission might have presumed would be its supporters.
Out-of-touch Brussels Eurocrats were blasted by tech industry groups, telcos, and even a digital rights group for, they said, trying to tinker with the EU’s copyright laws without understanding the effects.
Catching almost all the flak at a Westminster forum on the Digital Single Market proposals this week was Estonian robo-Commish Andrus Ansip, for his attack on territoriality. Having complained that he couldn’t watch Estonian football in Brussels, Ansip declared that copyright was broken, that he wanted to force producers to license their audio-visual material across Europe all at once, and at one price.
But if Ansip thought the accompanying populist crusade against “geoblocking” was going to be win support from the technology groups and companies who normally fight copyright, he’s had the shock of his life.
BT policy chief Julian Ashworth predicted the consequences would be less innovation, less diversity and less creative material. He also feared a “dumbing down” effect, as material which doesn’t get tangled in language or cultural nuances – stuff that appeals to the the lowest common denominator – is what will get licensed.
“There is not a problem being solved here by the Digital Single Market proposals,” he said. “There is no market failure.”
Ashworth pointed out that according to 2012 research by the EU, only 3.5 per cent of consumers wanted to access AV material across borders and only one per cent want to buy it across national borders.
Ansip has also proposed mandating portability of media across boundaries – but even here, Ashworth said BT’s own extensive research of its customer base had showed demand was far lower than Brussels' commissioners thought.
“Only 20 per cent of our customers have a high demand for portability, and fewer than one third have any demand at all," he added.
Portability was feasible, Ashworth said, but “it would not be like flicking a switch”. BT couldn’t guarantee quality of service for your legally acquired stream over a ropey Romanian ISP. Overall, BT thought portability could be achieved if pushed, though.
Ashworth urged the commission to look for copyright reforms where they might actually be needed, not where Brussels-bubble bureaucrats had a beef.
“There is no market failure here that would mandate such measures,” he said.
“They may not be able to rescue migrants from the sea. They may not be able to stand up to President Putin.
They may not be able to find jobs for 50 per cent of young people who are unemployed.
But they can offer you offer you a marvellous digital future!”
Antony Walker, of tech services trade group techUK, surprisingly agreed. According to a survey of his tech services members, territoriality came ninth out of 16 named “problems”.
He said he was “surprised” by the Commission’s fixation on geoblocking and called for a “balanced approach”. Too often when the EU revised the law, he said, it came up with things like the Cookie Directive.
“Even the European Commission sees demand is still very nascent,” he reckoned. “It seems legitimate that rights holders should determine an appropriate price across those markets.”