Internet overhauling in European Union

European Union Telecommunications Commissioner Viviane Reding is planning to overhaul Internet downloading policies in order to facilitate simple, consumer friendly, and legal access to music and films online. Her response to a recent survey, showing 60% of people between ages 16-24 as downloaders of illegal audiovisual content, is that “internet piracy appears to become more and more sexy, in particular for the digital natives.” While this may or may not be true, she has rightly identified that the current business models and legal solutions in place are a “vote of no-confidence” and that there is a need to overhaul internet downloading policies.  

In order to accomplish a user-friendly policy, the EU Commission seeks to undertake the following steps. In addition to making internet downloads easier, it plans on speeding up digitization of books. Furthermore, the Commission also focuses on ‘m-commerce,’ a term that denotes the buying and selling of goods and services through wireless handheld devices such as cellular phones and personal digital assistants (PDAs). According to the Commissioner, the lack of common EU-wide standards and rules for ‘m-cash’ leaves unexploited the great potential of this next generation of e-commerce. The Commission also plans to popularise video-conferencing in order to cut down on the number of business trips, thereby lowering emissions of gases responsible for global warming. Reding indicates that the new laws are supposed to reconcile the interests of IP owners and Internet surfers in order to ensure a fair remuneration for creators and easy access to digital content for consumers.

Although internet piracy is a persistent problem in society, some stats suggest otherwise. A survey of 1,000 fans shows that many 14 to 18 year olds are now streaming music regularly online using services such as YouTube and Spotify. In January, 2009, 26% of 14 to 18 year olds admitted file-sharing at least once a month compared with 42% in December 2007. The research also revealed that many teenagers (65%) are streaming music regularly, with more 14 to 18 year olds (31%) listening to streamed music on their computer every day compared with music fans overall (18%). The picture may be more complex than a simple shift from file-sharing to streaming, with people sharing music in new ways such as via bluetooth technology, on blogs, and through copying, also known as “ripping” content from friends’ MP3 devices. In any event, illegal downloading and file-sharing is still an issue, albeit a smaller one.

While more details of the actual plans are not yet available, there does appear to be a tug of war in place.  A Green Party MEP, in agreement with the German study, says that the best way to go about the business of file-sharing is to legalize it. The study proposes that the best solution is where ISPs issue a flat rate to all subscribers and, in turn, legalize file-sharing. On the other hand, the content industry has been proposing that ISPs should police their networks and disconnect those who engage in persistent copyright infringement. Although the Commissioner’s intention appears to favour the former viewpoint, the ultimate policy changes still remain to be seen. It is hoped that by late 2009, the Commission will systematically evaluate the current policies in light of the existing issues, and will formulate and implement new measures that will not only be effective but also durable.