back to article California über alles? Is MEP Reda flushing Euro copyright tradition down the pan?

The European Parliament this week made one of its strangest ever decisions, endorsing the replacement of the European cultural tradition with American ideas. Author and academic Robert Levine thinks Pirate MEP Julia Reda’s copyright reform* proposals are the policy equivalent of photo-bombing, and MEPs haven’t really twigged …

  1. Ole Juul

    I made a mistake

    I realize that the Pirate party is young and consists mostly of young people newly awakening to politics, but have felt that they were on track to help us into a new era in the digital and general rights world. Now I seriously worry that we may have a generation of kids who have been bought. My "get off my lawn" comment might refer to too much TV. Just yesterday I commented on the Reg to the effect that I thought that Reda was our best chance. Now I'm seriously doubting that. Great article Andrew.

    1. Michael Habel Silver badge

      Re: I made a mistake

      I gave up the Pirate Party in the last election were they shifted their Media Platform, to a Drug Cultured (i.e. The legalization of Marijuana), one. How you can go from what was eventually an anti-government snooping / Internet Controlfreakery Government (Gernman CDU) Party to something as base as liberalizing the current Drug Policy in one election cycle baffles me greatly. It's little wonder why that Party is on the wain. As I plain to be voting for the AfD in the next election instead.

  2. Michael H.F. Wilkinson

    Interesting piece

    I always find it interesting that people who see copyright only as a barrier are those who have created little themselves. Many people (like me) own copyright to stuff and explicitly state that anyone can use it freely, often through variants of the BSD, GPL, CC, or my favourite, the Free Beverage License (You can use it, but you owe me a drink next time). Alternatively, educational or other non-profit use is allowed. However, it is my choice.

    People that create something very many people want to copy, are special in a way. Anybody else might have made it, but they didn't. Special or not, they are within their rights to say others cannot use it without my permission. The fact that it is much easier now to copy works than it has ever been before does not change that right per se. Let us not forget that that same ease of copying has lead to unprecedented generosity as well, as witnessed by the load of free stuff available today.

    In the unlikely case the above is of use, please feel free to use any of the above, and you don't even have to buy e a drink ;-)

  3. Dan 55 Silver badge
    Meh

    Useful idiot

    She was given the job of writing her report on the Copyright Directive because everyone knew what she was going to write. It's easier to start with a radical (US) viewpoint and let MEPs row back on a few things than it is to start with the current conservative (European) viewpoint and hope that MEPs overhaul a lot of things.

    So it might be best to look at who commissioned her report. We already know what they hoped to achieve. And why they hoped to achieve it is probably just lobbying.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I don't know enough about the French/German system to really understand the implications, but if a copyright cannot be re-assigned or sold off then how do businesses actually function?

    A programmer could surely claim after being sacked that he owns the copyright to the company's software as it was not possible for any contract of work to re-assign the copyright of his code to his employers? Or an actor later refusing permission for a film to be released on DVD as they own the copyright to their performance which can't be re-assigned?

    Seems a difficult ruling unless there is always a fair use claim for employers?

    1. frank ly

      As I understand it (euro legal eagles, please correct if needed), if you enter into a contract of employment or a fixed term contract to do a particular thing, then the copyright in whatever you 'create' belongs to your employer/client (depending on the exact wording of the contract of course).

      This can be complicated by considerations of what is and what is not regarded as 'original creative work', but that's a separate argument.

      If an author or artist works alone, on their own time, then whatever they produce is their intellectual property and they have copyright in it. They can licence the right to copy or use their work in various ways, subject to whatever agreed conditions, timescales and payment mechanisms, but they can't sign away their copyright. This was probably done to prevent rapacious corporations from screwing poor and desperate artists out of potential lifetime earnings. As if that would ever happen.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Sure under the Anglo-American idea you can assign them. However this statement from the article:

        "The European tradition is much more unequivocal and rights-based, and emerged from the idea that a creative work is an extension of the human individual. For Germans, explains Levine, a work contains the “essence” of an individual. Harm the work, and by extension, you’re harm the person.

        So, in the 19th Century the French enshrined these ideas as “moral rights”, or droit d’auteur. And when the EU came along, the French and Germans ensured it was based on their ideas, by making it a fundamental right. Moral rights are non-negotiable and absolute.

        It has some interesting consequences. In the Anglo-American copyright system, rights pile up with intermediaries. Whereas in Germany, for example, you can’t assign your copyright to anyone — it always stays with you."

        Would seem to state that a work contract could not create a right for the employer as in your statement " then the copyright in whatever you 'create' belongs to your employer/client ". This would erode the rights and contradict the statement that " in Germany, for example, you can’t assign your copyright to anyone — it always stays with you.".

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      In these systems a work done under contract is by default copyright of the creator...unless specifically stated otherwise by the work contract (and of course it's a standard contract clause that all copyright on work done on company time belongs to the company)

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        "and of course it's a standard contract clause that all copyright on work done on company time belongs to the company"

        This is something to look at carefully if you're about to sign a contract. The company may well try to use wording that copyright on anything done during the period of the engagement belongs to the company without limiting it to work done on the company time. Of course this may simply a mistake and they don't really mean that. Anybody can make a simple mistake like that, can't they?

        If you're faced with that get the wording changed, not just a verbal assurance, otherwise you could be seriously screwed if you happen to write a best-seller or something in your spare time.

        1. Mark 85 Silver badge

          @Doctor Syntax

          The company may well try to use wording that copyright on anything done during the period of the engagement belongs to the company without limiting it to work done on the company time.

          In the States, that is a very common clause. The companies use it because they say that, for an example, a programmer might re-use bits of code on a personal project or for a project for another employer. However, they can be Draconian about it. One place I worked, I had to show them anything I produced for sale (craft sales, shareware, etc. even though these were totally unrelated to any product the company had produced or ever would produce. One lad I worked with was told to shut down his side business because it violated these terms. It was an electronics firm, he was an electrical engineer who did... ready for this.... plumbing work, on the side because he enjoyed it. They felt he might develop some new cooling method for electronic equipment

    3. c3o

      The moral right of authorship can not be sold off, but the usage/reproduction/distribution rights can of course be.

    4. jonathanb Silver badge

      I guess you can still grant an exclusive distribution licence for the length of the copyright which is basically the same thing as selling it in economic terms.

  5. Tromos
    FAIL

    The Anglo-American tradition...focuses on a time-limited property

    Time-limited until the next renewal.

    1. Hollerith 1

      Re: The Anglo-American tradition...focuses on a time-limited property

      It's rather hard to renew a property that expires 50 or 70 years after you are dead. The only literary copyright I know to have been renewed after the death of its author is that of 'Peter Pan', assigned originally to the Ormond St Children's Hospital. Not many people had a problem with that renewal.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The Anglo-American tradition...focuses on a time-limited property

      I think you mean 'time limited until the current time limit expires, at which point we extend it even more.'

  6. Panicnow

    Privilege not Right

    Lets be clear! IP is a Privilege granted by government, Not a Right!

    IP is a restriction on Free speech, which IS a Right!

    1. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: Privilege not Right

      Sorry, but you need to much better informed before you can comment usefully.

      Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

      Article 27, Paragraph 2

      “Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author”)"

      +

      American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man of 1948

      Article 13, Paragraph 2

      “Every person has the right…to the protection of his moral and material interests as regards his inventions or any literary, scientific or artistic works of which he is the author”

      +

      Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of 1988 (the Protocol of San Salvador)

      Article 14, paragraph 1 (c)

      “The States Parties to this Protocol recognize the right of everyone…[t]o benefit from the protection of moral and material interests deriving from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author”

      +

      Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of 1952 (the European Convention on Human Rights)

      Article 1 of Protocol No.1

      “Every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions. No one shall be deprived of his possessions except in the public interest and subject to the conditions provided for by law and by the general principles of international law”

      Just as useful is Samuel Johnson in 1773:

      "There seems to be ... in authours, a stronger right of property than that by occupancy; a metaphysical right, a right, as it were, of creation, which should from its nature be perpetual."

      What you're saying is that you want none of this to be real, so removing rights from people is painless and has no collateral damage.

      Author's Rights are human rights

      It's a Human Right as expressed in

      1. c3o

        Re: Privilege not Right

        Universal Declaration of Human Rights

        Article 27, Paragraph 1

        "Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits."

        As the UN's special rapporteur in the field of cultural rights recently told the EP's Legal Affairs Committee:

        "Cultural participation and the protection of authorship are both human rights principles designed to work in tandem. Striking an appropriate balance between the two goals is thus essential, even if challenging. The right to science and culture needs to be respected in the copyright framework. ... Exceptions and limitations constitute a vital part of the balance that we must strike between the interests of rights-holders in exclusive control and the interests of others in cultural participation."

        https://juliareda.eu/2015/05/intellectual-property-rights-are-not-human-rights/

        What are expressly not human rights are IP rights, distribution rights etc. held by anyone else than the creators of works.

  7. Dr Stephen Jones
    Pirate

    Be happy you're being robbed

    It is true that all rights impinge on somebody else's right to do something.

    When you remove someone's right to own and control their own work, by definition, the only people who will benefit are parasites. Music industry parasites or technology industry parasites. Removing ownership from the owner means it's a free for all for the most powerful.

    The anti-copyright kids should be treated like the union scabs they are, not freedom fighters.

  8. Duncan Macdonald Silver badge

    Limit the term

    All copyrights should expire after 20 years from first sale or license. The current position where the copyright protection term gets extended anytime that Mickey Mouse is starting to run out of copyright is a gross abuse.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Limit the term

      "All copyrights should expire after 20 years from first sale or license."

      It would need to avoid the problem of someone who refused to sell or licence something - which then inhibited other development.

      That has happened with patents. BBC Radio 4 had a programme on Watt's condenser for the steam engine. It examined whether the 25 year extension to the initial Watt condenser patent obstructed overall steam engine development.

      Unfortunately one of the fluffy science programmes that the media make these days. A good subject spun out with padding.

      http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05y0ql5

      1. Duncan Macdonald Silver badge

        Re: Limit the term

        Copyright - unlike patents - does not stop an idea being reused. (If it did then there would be very little fiction - all those reused plots.)

        Patents - which do inhibit the reuse of an idea - already have a limited term (usually no more than 20 years).

    2. Hollerith 1

      Re: Limit the term

      So if I write a song when I am 20, at 40, my rights in it expire? What if it was a steady seller, with many cover versions down the years? Why am I suddenly not allowed to reap the continued fruit of my creativity after I am 40? If it right that film makers, looking for a sound-track, can scour old songs and use them for free to their huge profit, while I, who wrote the song that helped cement the popularity of their movie, sit and watch them rake in the dosh?

      I never quite figure out why a creator suddenly isn't allowed to get the profit of his or her actions throughout his/her lifetime. I am not so keen on the 70-year extension after death (based on an old model that he's want to keep supporting his widow and kids). I can't think of many other fields that would tolerate the switching off of rewards after a limited time.

      1. NumptyScrub

        Re: Limit the term

        I am not so keen on the 70-year extension after death (based on an old model that he's want to keep supporting his widow and kids).

        I've heard allegations that it's actually based on the model that the Disney Corporation don't want anyone to be able to copy a stylised mouse that was first drawn in 1928, because it is still an enormous cash cow for them.

        So if I write a song when I am 20, at 40, my rights in it expire? What if it was a steady seller, with many cover versions down the years? Why am I suddenly not allowed to reap the continued fruit of my creativity after I am 40? If it right that film makers, looking for a sound-track, can scour old songs and use them for free to their huge profit, while I, who wrote the song that helped cement the popularity of their movie, sit and watch them rake in the dosh?

        I never quite figure out why a creator suddenly isn't allowed to get the profit of his or her actions throughout his/her lifetime.

        Counterpoint; I invent the cure for cancer when I am 20, and patent it. Under existing law it is already time-limited to 20 years after filing and after that anyone can use it; I have 20 years to make my money out of it, then it becomes a free for all where I receive no recompense from anyone using and benefiting from my work. At 40 years old, I, who invented the cure, have to sit and watch them rake in the dosh, and this is the expected result of the patent process.

        I completely agree that creators have intrinsic rights to (and over) their creations, however there is an enormous discrepancy between the terms of patents and copyright. 20 years vs life+50 (or life+75 if it is a corporate copyright) seems to indicate that the value of one is grossly disproportionate to the other; especially given that both are essentially a state-protected monopoly over the creation in question.

        Personally I would see either patents becoming life+50 (which is an idiotic idea in a free market which relies on innovation), or copyright becoming 20 years (which will outrage anyone who owns copyright in anything), because IMO if you are going to protect a creators rights over their creation, it should be done equally and without prejudice to the actual creation in question.

        I completely understand that I'm probably alone in that view, though :'(

      2. Ole Juul

        Re: Limit the term

        I never quite figure out why a creator suddenly isn't allowed to get the profit of his or her actions throughout his/her lifetime.

        They are allowed to get profits. They can press records or make medicine or build and make profits on their own creation. Many people, when they get older, continue to do what they figured out how to do when they were younger. However, when you die, you personally don't get paid any more.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Facepalm

        Re: Limit the term

        > I never quite figure out why a creator suddenly isn't allowed to get the profit of his or her actions throughout his/her lifetime.

        Well, there's nothing stopping you doing this after copyright has expired, so wonder no more!

        Additionally, it puts authors on a level footing with everyone else who doesn't have the benefit of a legally imposed monopoly for the rest of their days.

  9. Alistair
    Windows

    Limit the Term.

    Disney has absolutely mangled the concept of copyright into a nightmare that needs to be attacked with an axe and a chainsaw.

    This mess is just that, a terrible mess. Furthered by complete misunderstandings of the differences between copyright, trademark, patent, and real honest to pete "intellectual property" (not this crap that gets called IP now, such as the one click patents), and exacerbated by the differentiation of the *legal* interpretations of these items around the world.

    I'm no fan of the Disney interpretations, nor am I hot on the Amazon interpretations. I know damned well what happened with my patentable material, however that was terms of employment (and **there is a rats nest of patent/copyright crap that NO politician is going to attack) I'm inclined to believe that at this stage of the game, the only direction that any legal frame work is going to go is to bolstering both the Disney and Amazon positions, and you and I and the rest of the folks out there can get screwed.

    </hmmms, seems I need more coffee and possibly a valium or three>

    1. heyrick Silver badge

      Re: Limit the Term.

      The thing is - copyright that is a little bit unfair is no big deal, but copyright that is grossly unfair is.

      If we arrive at a situation where our pictures are harvested and used by corporations and our videos are taken down automatically because there is some music playing in the background, how long until people start to just ignore the idea of copyright entirely?

    2. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: Limit the Term.

      The main complaint with the copyright system today is that people get ripped off, and can't get access to justice. This applies to you whether you are an amateur or a pro. You expect to be ripped off, and can do nothing about it.

      This affects livelihoods. Whether term duration is 70 or 90 years doesn't really affect livelihoods at all.

      1. Duncan Macdonald Silver badge

        Re: Limit the Term.

        In any other field than IP - one job of work (Raising a crop, curing a sick child, piloting an aircraft etc) gets one payment - why should IP get payments for life (and beyond) ?

        A 20 year term is plenty to reward the creators of a work.

        1. Dr Stephen Jones

          Re: Limit the Term.

          "A 20 year term is plenty to reward the creators of a work."

          When the Green Party suggested this it lost almost all of its supporters. It then had to lie and say it didn't really mean it.

          Shorter copyight terms are popular on the internet but very unpopular in real life. Listen and learn.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Limit the Term.

            > Shorter copyight terms are popular on the internet but very unpopular in real life.

            People are largely grouped into two camps on this issue:

            1) People that don't really care, probably constituted by consumers mainly. A relatively small proportion of them do care about DRM and related issues.

            2) People that do care because they perceive that reduction in copyright term would affect their income. For the vast majority of these people, it would make very little difference in terms of their economic income. Most economic works pay the vast majority of what they're going to pay in the first few years, probably 3 or 4 years. We can see this effect in practice when we can buy releases of games, CDs and DVDs in the bargain bins.

            From an economic perspective (setting aside the moral aspects which Andrew keeps alluding to in France and Germany), people hate letting things go. Bears defend their kill, people hoard stuff they have paid for, even if they don't use it. It is built into our psyche. However, we mustn't pander to it. If the purpose of copyright is economic (the oft touted social contract balance of encouraging the production of works against our refraining from free use for a set time), then the term should be set based on the useful economic period, which for the vast majority of creative works is probably less than 5 years. With that borne in mind, 20 years is *vastly* too long but still far better than life + 50/70 years.

            What might be interesting to explore is different terms for different kinds of works. Films have a fairly short life, music probably longer, many forms of art probably considerably longer. It might be quite difficult to adjudicate in practice though and adding complication to an already complex area would make things worse in my view.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Limit the Term.

        > The main complaint with the copyright system today is that people get ripped off, and can't get access to justice.

        I would argue that copyright term has undermined any public sympathy for the equity of the social contract and thus is roundly ignored by a large swathe of the population.

        It will remain so until the entire thing has been dismantled and rebooted with something that we can all get behind which will pretty much *never happen* by normal political means.

        Like I said before (ad nauseam I'm sure), we will either have an economical revolution which will overtake the whole issue anyway (catastrophic collapse of the US economy/rise of the Chinese as a world power) or we will figure out how to abandon money and most of the problem will just go away.

  10. Roger Lancefield
    Terminator

    Ed Balls

    "Harm the work, and by extension, you’re harm[ing] the person"

    Good grief. That's in the foothills of "insult the religion, demean the adherent". What emotive bollox.

    I bet most of the "creatives" screaming this from the treetops run their indispensable blogs on Wordpress, for which they've never paid, and to which they've never contributed, a penny. Bleedin' parasites.

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