Neelie Kroes: Copyright and Innovation in the Creative Industries

Neelie Kroes: Copyright and Innovation in the Creative Industries

The following is an excerpt from a speech given by Neelie Kroes at the 2012 Intellectual Property and Innovation Summit, hosted by The Lisbon Council in Brussels.

Thank you for your kind invitation to talk with you about the creative sector.

Today I want to talk about why, in a changing digital age, copyright reform is the right way to support that sector. The debate on copyright often involves extreme positions, rigid views, and emotive arguments.

But for me, this isn’t a simple question: we need to recognise its complexity. Not to be dogmatic, but pragmatic. Not to consider the question as an abstract, philosophical issue: but in its context and time.

Let’s remind ourselves of that context. The world we live in is changing fast. Technology is changing. Business models are changing. The way we consume and enjoy creative works – music, movies, games – is changing.

And, if we want to keep the right balance, the legal framework has to respond.

The last major EU copyright instrument, the Copyright Directive, was adopted in 2001. The Commission proposals it was based on date back to 1998.

Let’s remind ourselves what’s happened since then.

In 1998, Mark Zuckerberg was 14. Today, almost one billion people around the world actively use Facebook, to share photos, videos, and ideas.

In 1998, YouTube didn’t exist. Today, one hour of video is uploaded every second.

In 1998, most people listened to music on the radio, CD or tape. Now digital downloads often overtake conventional sales. New technologies allow downloading or streaming; easily, instantly, wherever you are. Not just to passively listen, but to interact and give feedback, to creators and friends.

But changes are not limited to the content business, they affect all sectors. Huge changes have taken place in the research area. Today, new scientific discoveries don’t just come from new experiments, new drugs, new clinical trials: in fact, now, we can get new results by manipulating existing data. Data and text-mining techniques now lie behind a huge field of research, like human genome projects, potentially life-saving. They could hold the key to the next medical breakthrough, if only we freed them from their current legal tangle. Research activities are not clearly exempted from the copyright rules and there are many different rules in the 27 member states.

And here’s the most important change since 1998. Back then, creation and distribution were in the hands of the few. Now they are in the hands of everyone: democratising innovation, empowering people to generate and exchange ideas, supporting and stimulating huge creativity.

And now let’s remind ourselves what our objectives as policymakers should be for the creative sector.

We should help artists live from their art. Stimulate creativity and innovation. Improve consumer choice. Promote our cultural heritage. And help the sector drive economic growth.

We can’ t look at copyright in isolation: you have to look at how it fits into the real world. So let’s ask ourselves: how well is the current system achieving those objectives, in the world we live in today?

Well for one thing, you often find that online licensing restrictions make it impossible to buy music legally. Sometimes, for example, you can’t buy an MP3 across an EU border.

We have already made a proposal on orphan works and recently one on collective rights management, to make multi-territorial licensing easier. The licensing proposal is a good step forward to make it easier to legally access the music you love, especially across borders. I hope legislators are able to agree it quickly. But this tackles only one aspect of the problem.


Neelie Kroes is the Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda. This speech is cross posted from our friends over at Medialaws. Click Here to read the full speech.