EC scraps talks over online access to copyright material

The European Commission has ended secret talks to agree a pan-European deal on online copyright protection, according to a leaked letter from the EC's internal market and services division, DG Markt, which was co-ordinating the negotiations.

The European Commission has ended secret talks to agree a pan-European deal on online copyright protection, according to a leaked letter from the EC's internal market and services division, DG Markt, which was co-ordinating the negotiations.

The letter, obtained by French technology website PC Inpact and reported by Monica Horten in a blogpost, reveals that talks - which could have led to more legal ways of downloading copyright material - have broken down.

"Some stakeholders appear less willing to continue with the dialogue," wrote Margot Fröhlinger, director of DG Markt. She said they felt the format of the talks and their timing were neither appropriate nor useful. This made it impossible to achieve the talks' goals, so she proposed to end the dialogue.

"We deeply regret this development," Margot Fröhlinger said. "An exchange of idea on possible joint actions to promote access to legal offers and on user awareness could have brought new insights on how to assist consumers to legally enjoy premium content."

This would have fed into the commission's ongoing review of its intellectual property directive.

The decision to scrap the talks comes as the US tries to get the provisions of its Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) accepted by trade partners in the Pacific Rim. These provisions include the criminalisation of copyright theft and the payment of "reasonable attorneys' fees", which could vastly increase the cost of losing a court case.

Michael Giest, a Canadian academic who specialises in online copyright, said the proposals provided for the US "to get everything it wanted in Acta but didn't get". Acta is the anti-counterfeiting trade agreement negotiated largely in secret by the US, European and some Commonwealth countries, which has influenced the controversial copyright provisions, now under judicial review, in the UK Digital Economy Act.

Attorney Will Roebuck, who runs the eradar legal resource centre for online business, described Acta as "all stick and no carrot".

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