Monthly Archives: September 2012

EU Digital Agenda moves ahead with collecting society harmonisation

On his blog, Christian Engström, MEP for the Swedish Pirate Party, discusses the upcoming Collective Rights Management Directive, which has just been presented by the European Commission. The directive aims at harmonisation of national royalty collecting societies, as a step to facilitate the Internal Market on the internet, an area where it at this time still has serious shortcomings, as I have commented before.

As Mr. Engström rightfully notes, this is an improvement over the status quo and might really shake up the intransparent structures and the monopoly of rights some national collecting societies currently have. It should be supported.

I also agree with his criticism of the directive. If the author of a work cannot be found within 5 years to be paid his royalties – the work is then considered “orphaned” – the collecting societies should not be allowed to simply keep the money. This would set the wrong incentives and probably weaken the effort to actually search for the rights-holder. The collecting societies have to lose the money in that case, and Mr. Engström’s proposal to donate it to cultural archives and museums in need of funding seems a good idea, though the details of who is eligible might be tricky. Mr. Engström proposes to leave this to the member states, but since the whole idea is to not only make a European Internal Market but a common “cultural zone”, maybe there should be a central European office where cultural institutions and maybe even new up-and-coming creative projects can apply for receiving some of those funds?

The draft directive mentions a due date for payouts of 12 months after the financial year, which is of course ridiculously long. As services like flattr show, flexible distribution of funds between consumers and creators is easily possible on a monthly basis. The distribution societies do of course have a few more transactions to process, but if a small start-up can handle millions of transactions a month, the big collecting societies should easily be able to put up a bigger server or rent some cloud resources to handle billions.

Still, this is definitely a step in the right direction. Though it should not stop here. Like the first draft which I discussed here before, the provisions of the directive do not state an obligation for multi-territorial licensing, it just compels member states to provide specific favourable conditions for this to happen. Should a national collecting society decide not to license multi-territorially, the option to do this falls back to the rights-holder. In many cases, the rights holder will not be the artist, but a record label. And as I explained in my earlier post, they have commercial reasons (regional price discrimination) to refrain from granting a Europe-wide license. In fact, the directive acknowledges that territorial licensing is also grounded in commercial choices in it’s first chapter (page 3). So for many pieces of media, the Digital Internal Market still won’t be realised through the directive.

The goal should be a Cassis-de-Dijon ruling for digital media. The analogy is of course not completely correct as it’s always difficult to compare tangible and digital goods. What I mean by it is that, I, as a consumer or possibly even reseller, should be able to import mp3 or other files that are legally sold in one member state into another via the internet. This is not possible due to nationally-centred licensing, but the button on my favourite mp3 website doesn’t say License. It says Buy. And if I buy something in one member state (the transaction takes place on their server), I own it and should be allowed to take it with me across borders.

However, even though the implementation of the current draft of the Collective Rights Management directive would not bring about this situation, it definitely improves the conditions for forming a true Digital Internal Market in the near future.

 

tl;dr

The criticism I put forth about the earlier draft of the Collective Rights Management Directive still holds true, but Christian Engström and all like-minded MEPs are right to generally support the Directive (notwithstanding the points he rightfully criticizes). It is a step in the right direction and should facilitate further steps toward a Digital Internal Market.

 

 

 

Recommended reading on eurocrisis: Eurodaemmerung, Foreign Affairs Sept/Oct 2012

Most media coverage of the eurocrisis comes from the national press of the countries concerned. This has the effect of forcing a national perspective on the issue, ranging from a mere focus of what “one’s own” politicians did or said – in almost all publications – to populist tendencies of renationalisation and euroscepticism – in the tabloids.

The current issue of Foreign Affairs includes a collection of comments called Eurodaemmerung, which offers an outside-looking-in approach, which breaks out of the fixed them-and-us scheme that is so entrenched in inner-Eurozone media coverage. The authors of the Eurodaemmerung-articles all are distinguished British or American academics and / or former government officials. In their view, the Eurozone is all “them”, without any animosities about who has to pay for whom or who forces this and that set of measures on whom. This makes their texts on the subject more worthwhile to read than everything that has come out of the newsrooms of News Corp.  and Axel Springer owned press organs over the last few years combined.

Short abstracts of the articles follow, to give you a better idea what to expect.

The Crisis of Europe by Timothy Garton Ash

Ash’s take on the crisis starts out with a thorough historical interpretation of European integration, stating that the current mixture of national orientation of the electorate and the way national politicians handle the two levels end up being “an odd way to run a continent”. He several reasons for this, including a missing European compatriotism and Germany struggling with it’s own course for the common currency which it pushed for itself under Kohl. With the historic driving forces for European integration gone, a Europe of freedom and prosperity is taken for granted and therefore suffers from it’s own success, a state which is not easily fixed.

Why the Euro Will Survive by C. Fred Bergsten

Bergsten considers the measures taken so far to save the Euro as overall successful, and envisions that “[w]hen the dust settles, the common currency, and indeed the entire project of European integration, is likely not only to survive but to emerge even stronger.” The monetary union is described as a half-hearted solution, which was born out of political compromise instead of thorough conceptualisation and therefore lacks a more complete common financial and economic system. He believes however, that capability to save the debtor countries and the currency is given. It is a question of political will, and a  struggle, in which every creditor tries to get the best deal for himself. On the bottom line, he finds that this “game of political chicken” has thus far been successful, and should in the medium-term be followed up by a program to re-stimulate growth, which he outlines.

Germany’s Unsustainable Growth by Adam Tooze

Tooze talks about how austerity measures , which the German administration currently tries to export into other Eurozone countries, came to be domestically. For sustainable growth, he argues, investment is needed and, thanks to record-low interest rates at which Germany can currently borrow money, also easily possible, were it not for the constitutional debt-ceiling which the country gave itself shortly before the crisis. Austerity should only be used as “a form of shock therapy”, with “meaningful investments” as a follow-up.

 

Obviously, the articles are open to criticism. For example, the articles (with the exception of Ash) hardly take the European Union system into consideration as something that goes beyond an intergovernmental international organization (that is, an agreement between sovereign nations). One might argue, that this is not really relevant for the issue at hand, as it is in fact largely handled intergovernmentally. Yet, this is a downside of a non-European perspective and also an effect of the tradition the journal Foreign Affairs itself has to be seen in. In the transatlantic constellation between Western Europe and the United States, the EU as such plays a supporting role at best, with its common external action focused elsewhere.

Nonetheless, the perspectives offered in the three Eurodaemmerung articles are exceptionally interesting, and in Foreign Affairs find a journalistically refined way out of purely academic literature. I recommend to pick up a copy of the Sept/Oct issue of Foreign Affairs from your local news stand or, if you prefer digital over dead tree, get it for your Kindle / tablet with Kindle app, or as a PDF-file from foreignaffairs.com.

tl;dr

The current issue of Foreign Affairs has three very interesting comments on the eurocrisis, which are not tainted by a national “them vs. us” attitude as mainstream media coverage is. Go read them.

Name one thing the EU has ever done for us!

The recent Eurobarometers show the European Union’s approval ratings taking a hard dive. As the eurocrisis rages on, blunt euroscepticism and tendencies to glorify the prospect of renationalisation seem rampant in discussions online and offline. The challenge that I chose as a title for this post is tossed around a lot.

I say:

Challenge Accepted!

Disclaimer: I do not really blame the people who are not already aware of what I’m about to elaborate. Among others, first and foremost, I blame nationally oriented journalism.

The European Union has given citizens an unprecedented influence on international agreements.

The current version of the EU Treaties, commonly known as the Lisbon Treaty, prescribes that international agreements which the European Union (acting institution in this case is usually the Commission) negotiates have to be approved by the European Parliament (EP). So far, so usual. And about time, you might  rightfully think, as it has been customary for international agreements to be ratified by national parliaments for quite a while now. You might also think that this does not constitute a larger degree of influence than the national parliamentary control did before. After all, it’s both nothing but a representative, legitimate parliament doing the approving, with options for citizens to petition it’s members like you would expect. There are a few important differences between an agreement negotiated by the Commission and ratified by the EP and an agreement negotiated by a national government and ratified by a national parliament, though.

Most importantly, your typical national parliament in Europe will have elected and therefore supports the very head of government who negotiated the agreement. Good luck trying to convince the majority of “your” members of parliament to openly acknowledge that “their” party’s figurehead might have negotiated something sub-optimal. And good luck  getting them to actually vote against it or push for improvements before it comes to a vote.

The European Parliament on the other hand has far less of such party-based loyalties, at least not between them and the other institutions – notwithstanding the facts, that they do approve, or as of recently elect,  the President of the Commission and it is an unwritten rule, that he or she should come from the spectrum of parties that currently holds the majority of seats (e.g. conservative or social democrats). The EP is, as an institution, far more concerned with improving their position within the EU system. They are still disadvantaged in a lot of situations which are commonly named when talking about the EU’s democratic deficit. Their tactic to improve this situation is to use the powers they do have, and try to stretch them to their maximum, or if possible beyond that by being granted informal rights of participation. And they have time and time again proven that they aren’t afraid of rather extreme measures, be it blocking the budget, or rejecting international agreements, such as the first attempt at the SWIFT agreement or more recently ACTA.

Of course it’s not all just “stickin’ it to the man”. My subjective impression is that MEPs themselves identify a lot with the task of battling the democratic deficit for the citizens’ sake. And if there’s an issue that meets massive and widespread protest, they are more likely to listen than many national MEPs, who tend to be more restricted by party lines. That’s why ACTA failed, even though the conservative parties of the member states supported it and the centre-right has a majority in the EP.

Regardless of the exact motivations of the EP, the resulting effect is the same: The European Union has given citizens and their direct representatives a more realistic chance for unprejudiced scrutiny of controversial international agreements, which would most likely have gotten rubber-stamped by parliament in a purely national process. In most cases this is an additional check, since the national ratification has to take place nonetheless.

Next time someone challenges you to “name one thing the EU has ever done for us”, tell that person that without the EU, ACTA would probably be in force right now, despite massive popular opposition.