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IMPALA launches Digital Action Plan as digital single market plan discussed by European culture committee

By | Published on Tuesday 27 January 2015


As European Commissioner G√ľnther Oettinger heads into the European Parliament later today to discuss plans for a ‘Digital Single Market’ with the legislature’s Culture & Education Committee, pan-European indie label trade group IMPALA has this morning launched its own Digital Action Plan, with the strap line “making Europe the best place to be a creator and a culture enthusiast”.

The Digital Single Market initiative is part of the European Commission’s Digital Agenda and sets out to “update EU single market rules for the digital era”.

It’s amongst a list of priorities set out by the current EC President Jean-Claude Juncker, and in the Commission’s own blurb for the project, alongside ambitions to “establish a single area for online payments and further protect EU consumers in cyberspace”, is the strangely specific and already-sounding-rather-dated objective to “boost the music download business”.

In a bid to inform the debate, IMPALA has published a ten-point plan, though unsurprisingly two key themes run throughout, strengthening copyright and ensuring a level playing field for smaller players in the market. In the former domain the indies will likely find themselves speaking in unison with the content industries’ own major players, though the big tech companies and those who think copyright rules, if anything, should be relaxed, will lobby against them.

On the copyright front, IMPALA calls for more to be done about piracy, arguing that jobs and revenues would grow significantly if “structurally infringing websites were tackled properly”.

The ‘follow the money’ approach, which is advocated by Mike Weatherley MP and the UK’s City Of London Police IP Crime Unit, should be furthered, IMPALA says, while search engines and internet service providers should be more proactive in steering web-users away from unlicensed sources of content. And when it comes to the web-block injunctions now employed against copyright infringing websites in an increasing number of European countries “cross-border application of rulings should be improved”.

Though perhaps the most interesting copyright point made in IMPALA’s plan is that “abuse of the ‘safe harbour’ exemption and takedown procedures must stop for the Digital Single Market to function properly”. That could be seen in part as a dig at YouTube, which IMPALA accused of anti-competitive practices when the Google service was trying to strong-arm the Merlin-repped indie labels to sign up to its Music Key platform last year.

YouTube, of course, is an ‘opt-out’ rather than ‘opt-in’ digital content service, in that if you are a rights owner, the chances are a user has already uploaded your content to its platform, you then have to decide whether to monetise it or demand its removal.

This arguably improves the negotiating hand of services like YouTube, because if you don’t licence your content to it then you are required to monitor their networks for people uploading your content (so to demand a takedown) at your own cost, even though you aren’t making any money out of them. And while YouTube’s Content-ID system helps to an extent, that’s still quite a commitment.

YouTube can get away with that arrangement, and not run the risk of liability for copyright infringement for the unlicensed content it routinely hosts, because of the so called ‘safe harbours’, mainly in America’s Digital Millennium Copyright Act, though there are parallels in European law too.

Some argue that companies like YouTube (and many more) have exploited safe harbours that were actually put in place to protect ISPs and server hosting companies rather than commercial content platforms; though test cases in the US courts have usually sided with the tech companies on this point.

Some in the content industries see this as a battle lost, and have accepted that monitoring sites like YouTube is now a routine part of the copyright management game, so it’ll be interesting to see if IMPALA manage to get this matter discussed anew as European politicians again review copyright laws and the digital economy.

Though rights owners may have to give a little if they are to get any favours from the Digital Single Market plan, in particular by enabling more cross-border licensing and content consumption, something that is sure to be on Oettinger’s agenda, and which is part of Pirate Party MEP Julia Reda’s previously reported copyright review.

But enough pondering, how about some quotes? IMPALA Executive Chair Helen Smith told reporters this morning: “An industrial policy for culture is a pre-requisite for Europe’s digital economy. This involves reinforcing copyright and clarifying what operators like YouTube can and can’t do. Ensuring a successful digital single market also implies a host of other measures such as promoting diversity in a measurable way and devising a new regulatory, competition, social and fiscal framework for smaller actors”.

Meanwhile IMPALA board member and [PIAS] Co-President Michel Lambot added: “A healthy licensing environment is fundamental. We look to the EU to take away distortions to the digital single market. It must be clear that ‘safe harbour’ is no place to hide in Europe if you are running a music service. Let’s couple that with a serious industrial policy that boosts smaller players, gets more investment, provides more exposure for all artists, and then of course quantifies the results. This is what our Action Plan is about”.

You can read IMPALA’s ten point plan here.