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  • Dominic McGonigal - C8 Associates

Copyright portfolio re-assigned to Brussels

As part of a bid to modernise the European Commission, newly elected EU President Jean-Claude Juncker had made changes to the way copyright is handled in Brussels. Juncker, who assumed office less than three weeks ago, has moved the remit for the handling of copyright into the hands of the Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society (DES), Günther Oettinger. One of the priority areas for improvement outlined by the Juncker Commission is the Digital Single Market.Previously the handling of copyright had been undertaken by the Department for Internal Market and Financial Services (DG Markt). DG Markt is responsible for patents, industrial property, postal services, and financial regulation. This meant that issues surrounding the creative industries were dealt with alongside those faced by science, industry, postmen, and bankers. A strange melting pot of diverse issues, I’m sure you’ll agree. At face value, the kinds of issues it’ll be sat alongside in DES do seem much more fitting; internet service providers, tech companies, and telecommunications. However, when you consider the ongoing conflicts between the creative industries, and the industries that act as a vehicle to carry the content creatives produce to the public, it is perhaps not as ideal as it may at first appear. Tech companies and telecommunications argue that copyright and copyright protection are a stumbling block to the technological revolution. Creative industries argue that copyright gives content its true value, and that it is required to provide fair financial recuperation to artists and their representatives. ISPs have been known to support the plight of the copyrighter in the past too. So, perhaps not the shrewdest move by the new EU President. But how will this play out in practice, with two starkly opposed sides will prove interesting. With Universal and Apple, Hachette and Amazon, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and Google all in the mix, it will fall to the Commissioners to ensure that fair play is exercised by all sides. The new Commission has a hierarchical structure. German Commissioner Oettinger has direct responsibility for DES, Digital Economy & Society. He reports to Vice-President Ansip, with a wider portfolio, covering all aspects of the Digital Single Market, including Employment, Justice and Economic Affairs. Ansip himself report to First Vice-President Timmermans, the charismatic former Dutch Foreign Minister who spoke so powerfully about the Dutch airline shot down over Ukraine. Timmermans then reports to President Juncker himself. If you believe that the power is in the pen, then Oettinger is the key player, with the ability to deploy the Roman strategy of divide and conquer in the digital turf wars. First Vice-President Timmermans has talked about copyright being the first test of the new Commission structure, with a new legislative proposal due ‘within months’. The spotlights will be on Oettinger, Ansip, Timmermans and Juncker with the Telecoms companies, the tech industry, ISPs and creative industries all ready to point fingers at each other, and the Commission itself if necessary. The situation is delicately poised, and ready to cause conflict. Whatever the new legislative proposals on copyright may be, it’s unlikely they’ll go by without any significant opposition by the industries covered by DES.

Watch this space.

Dominic McGonigal is the chairman of C8 Associates, a creative consultancy based in London. He holds a wealth of experience in the creative industries, including PPL who provide licenses to companies wishing to play music to the public. As well as C8 he also holds directorships with a number of creative startups. Read more here:

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