The EU published on Wednesday formerly secret draft papers on an international anti-counterfeiting deal, with no sign of a controversial mooted “three-strike” ban for on-line copyright breachers. Talks on the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) have been ongoing for two years between Europe, the US, Japan, Canada, New Zealand and others. The aim is to establish an international framework for national efforts “to more effectively combat the proliferation of counterfeiting and piracy,” with the accent on Internet fraud. The drafters, who have much work still to do, have to perform a tricky balancing act. They need to balance between assuring individual music downloaders that they will not be excluded from access to broadband, give service providers ways of avoiding liability while still ensuring the goal of better protecting the products and ideas of intellectual property owners, and reduce counterfeiting and illegal trade. The agreement aims to increase international cooperation against copyright infringement, including sharing of information and cooperation between our law enforcement authorities. It also aims to establish “enforcement practices,” fostering specialized intellectual property expertise within police forces and to raise consumer awareness about the importance of IPR protection and “the detrimental effects” of infringements. The OECD estimates that infringements of intellectual property traded internationally (excluding domestic production and consumption) account for more than EUR 150bn per year.
Germany, France and Britain have proposed measures against Iran for blocking foreign media broadcasts in a joint letter to other European Union members, the German foreign office said on Wednesday. In the letter, signed on behalf of Germany by Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, the countries called for the EU to take measures against Iran. The move comes after Iran has blocked numerous foreign radio and television broadcasts via satellite for several months. French daily Le Figaro reported that possible sanctions could include stopping companies such as Siemens or Nokia from delivering technologies to Teheran that allow the interception of emails or mobile phone conversations. A joint declaration could be signed as early as next week, when EU foreign ministers meet in Brussels.
Makers of six small Web browsers are urging the European Union to push Microsoft Corp to provide them more visibility in its browser choice website. Microsoft pledged last December to give European consumers better access to rival Internet browsers in Windows, ending a long antitrust dispute with the European Union. In March and April, Microsoft is allowing Europeans to select among 12 browsers on almost 200 million old and new personal computers in Europe. At first sight, Microsoft’s browser Choice Screen (www.browserchoice.eu) shows its own Internet Explorer, Mozilla’s Firefox, Apple Inc’s Safari and Google Inc’s Chrome. It is not immediately obvious that the remaining choices are available by scrolling to the right of the Web page. Makers of those browsers – Avant Browser, Flock, Green Browser, Maxthon, Slim Browser and Sleipnir – urged the European Commission in a petition on Thursday to rectify the situation. Microsoft has said the screen was in compliance with the European Commission’s decision. Five largest browsers show directly on the Choice Screen, but smaller vendors say there are no real indication consumers could find more options right to the screen
The German government has agreed to a plan to save digital copies of over 30,000 works from German cultural and scientific organizations in an online library. It’s seen as a response to Google’s Book Search project. The German Cabinet agreed Wednesday to a plan that would fund the digitization of books, pictures, sculptures, notes, music and films and make them available on the Internet. The project, called the German Digital Library (DDB), would go online in 2011 and play a major role in the preservation of Germany’s cultural identity, Culture Minister Bernd Neumann said. Initial funding of EUR 5m as well as annual costs of EUR 2.6m will come from a German economic bail-out program and be split by the federal and state governments. The German project is a response to the Google Book Search program, which the German government opposed, saying it lacked sufficient protections for copyright holders. The German project would first seek copyright holders’ approval before digitizing a work, rather than following Google’s strategy of allowing copyright holders to have their works removed from the database after being digitized. The online library would also be publicly funded and without commercial interests, Neumann added. The DDB would also be linked to Europeana, a similar project being undertaken by the European Union
EU telecoms chief Viviane Reding has warned that the European Commission would take action against Spain if the government moves to cut the internet access of content pirates. Earlier this year, France introduced new legislation that cuts off internet access to copyright scofflaws and the UK is expected to present similar legislation in the coming weeks. Spain is also understood to be looking into such measures, but the government has yet to announce any new laws. Ms Reding said that she had been “following with interest the discussions in Spain” and warned the government not to consider measures that ran afoul of the European-level protections of the rights of internet users. She argued that the development of a single European market for online content was a superior path to take to counter internet piracy, lamenting the fragmentation of copyright law across the EU
EU antitrust regulators said Tuesday that they are investigating whether Thomson Reuters Corp. is breaking monopoly abuse rules by preventing customers from applying their own codes to financial market data feeds. Thomson Reuters said it would fully cooperate with the investigation. The probe centers on real-time market datafeeds on trading prices that news and information provider Thomson Reuters supplies to financial customers. EU spokesman Jonathan Todd said it involves the data piped to banks’ internal computer systems, not the company’s terminals. The European Commission says it wants to check if the company locks in customers because it may make it difficult for them to use their own or other software to translate the Reuters Instrument Codes that identify the securities and where they are traded. Mr. Todd said EU officials identified the potential antitrust abuse when they looked at Thomson’s takeover of Reuters last year which formed the company. He said they didn’t act then because it was not relevant to the merger review, which only examined how a newer larger firm would affect competition. He said the EU was making the case a priority. Thomson Reuters has three rivals in this area and “none of them have this restriction.” There is no deadline to end the investigation. If officials find evidence of antitrust abuse, they can demand that a company change its behavior under threat of fines of up to 10 percent of its global turnover for every year that the business broke the law.
Early Thursday morning the European Parliament and EU member states finally reached a deal over a long-delayed telecoms package when MEPs dropped their opposition to French-style internet ‘three-strikes’ laws aimed at illegal internet downloaders, ending for now the Brussels debate on a fundamental ‘right’ to internet access. In a major reversal of the parliament’s position for much of the last year, MEPs in behind-closed-doors negotiations with the Council of Ministers, representing the member states, embraced new language in a compromise text that no longer requires that only judicial authorities be allowed to cut off internet access. MEPs from all parties, but mainly from the centre, left and the Green Party, strongly argued ahead of the European elections in June that three-strikes legislation is draconian and, with an eye to young voters, vowed to continue their opposition to such laws, maintaining that access to the internet had now essentially become a fundamental right as vital as access to water or electricity. The deputies maintained that so many aspects of a citizen’s participation in society – from paying bills to dealing with local government to reading the news – now required access to the internet that cutting off access from the digital world was depriving someone of a host of other rights.
If Finland is able to commit to a legal minimum internet broadband access requirement for every single one of its citizens within no more than a few years, why the heck should we be offering anything more than one and a half cheers for the vague and watered down offering served up by the EU this week? Surely where Finland goes we should all follow?
Let’s hope that the EU-wide move to use the analogue to digital switchover for out TVs leads to real progress in freeing up bandwidth for mobile phone networks and digital networks that are feeding the new TV programming demand. Let’s not hope that the target of 2013 is not all talk and that this is not simply an exercise for EU governments to milk the mobile phone companies for larger and larger licence fees to help them balance their deficit budgets.
The European Union has outlined its vision of a better connected world, unveiling a new strategy designed to support innovation through investment. Viviane Reding, EU commissioner for information society and media, said in a speech Thursday that the internet has the power to make European systems smarter and more efficient across the board. Reding suggested that the internet could lead to lower emissions, better healthcare, and less congested roads, for example, if the information it contains is harnessed correctly and efficiently. The strategy is designed to boost European internet infrastructures, and Reding said that the EU will work with national governments and IT companies to build up a EUR 300m investment fund. The European Commission (EC) has already invested EUR 400m in more than 90 European projects under its ICT research programme, and will invest another EUR 200m a year until at least 2013. This latest announcement will contribute to the EC’s plans to make Europe a leader in the research and rollout of future internet technologies needed to ” smarten up” infrastructures, Reding said
The EU on Sunday (18 October) used the book fair in Frankfurt to launch its online digital library of official documents issued in the last 50 years. The EU’s so-called digital bookshop puts more than 12 million scanned pages online, to be downloaded for free by anyone interested. The oldest document is a 1952 speech by Jean Monnet which inaugurated the High Authority of the Coal and Steel Community, later to become the EU.
“The digital library frees the memory of the European Union tied to paper since its beginning,” EU commissioner for multilingualism Leonard Orban said. “The millions of pages now accessible to everyone in the 23 official languages demonstrate the continued commitment of the European Union to preserve and encourage the history of the Union in its linguistic diversity,” he added. Apart from the bloc’s 23 official languages, some publications are also available in Chinese, Russian and around 20 other languages.
The equivalent of four kilometres of bookshelves were scanned from February 2008 at a cost of about €2.5 million and will also be included in Europeana, a mammoth project aimed at digitising several national libraries and arts museums all over the EU. The move comes also amid fierce opposition by European publishers to the free online books project of US giant Google.
Also at the Frankfurt book fair, French publisher Editis announced the development of an online book distribution system.
By creating their own digital bookstore, comments The New York Times, French publishers reckon they might be able to keep Google and Amazon at bay, or at least extract better terms in any French settlement modelled after the proposed US deal. But apart from the Editis project, big French publishers such as Hachette, Gallimard or Flammarion are developing their own online projects, making it hard to provide a united front against the US company.