European Commission Drives for Copyright Modernization

In Feature Articles by Roger Tagholm

Günther Oettinger

Günther Oettinger

The EU Digital Economy and Society commissioner, Günther Oettinger, told a Frankfurt Book Fair audience that the EU is striving for a “single digital market.”

By Roger Tagholm

Copyright needs to be modernized to take into account the changes wrought by digitization and the Internet, and the myriad ways content can be accessed and treated, the EU commissioner responsible for the Digital Economy and Society, Günther Oettinger, told delegates at the New European Media Summit at the Frankfurt Book Fair last week.

He believes new structures and legal clarity need to be in place in order for all stakeholders in the content value chain to enjoy an equitable trading environment and fair remuneration.

The European Commission is driving for a single digital market, for which Oettinger outlined his vision – one that included a barely veiled reference to Amazon. “The Internet economy is only successful if it allows rich creative content to be accessed easily,” he said. “It should not be about closed eco-systems guarded by gate-keepers. Interoperability is a core strategy of our initiative. We want an open standard for ebooks and a fair sharing of value. At the moment, it is skewed towards certain platforms, which is why we announced an enquiry into the e-commerce sector in Europe earlier this year.”

He knows that various hurdles have to be overcome. “Our copyright rules were written when all the many ways in which content can be treated and accessed did not exist. We need to make sure copyright can function in a digital single market. At the moment, the national laws of the 28 member states apply which leads to all kinds of legal uncertainty.

“For example, we need more legal certainty for researchers when it comes to text and data mining. Teachers need more legal clarity over whether they can use part of a textbook for online learning. Archives need to know if they may or may not digitize all or part of a book.”

However, he stressed that the EC did not intend to weaken copyright protection and he was at pains to reiterate this point. “That is not our intention at all. We believe in the fundamental role copyright plays for publishers, as an incentive and as a guarantor of investment.”

Nor did he say that the EC was in the business of telling publishers how to meet the challenges of the digital world. On the contrary, he was flattering, saying that the industry had already adapted well.

Yet at least one battle would seem to lie ahead. Earlier in the week, Hachette Livre Chairman and CEO Arnaud Nourry said publicly that while he supported the EC’s aims “as a citizen,” he did not understand why it wanted to tamper with copyright. 

The intention of both parties might be the same – the spread of literature and knowledge for the betterment of society as a whole – but, as ever, the how of achieving that, and the working out of the economic morality of any of the stakeholders’ intentions or strategies, is difficult. Fortunately, it is also fascinating.

About the Author

Roger Tagholm


Roger Tagholm is based in London and has been writing about the book industry for more than 20 years. He is the former Deputy Editor of Publishing News and the author of Walking Literary London (New Holland) and Poems NOT on the Underground (Windrush Press).