The Legal Affairs Committee JURI in the European Parliament has a Working Group on Copyright. I think we have had close to a dozen meetings, where we have invited various experts and stakeholders to educate us about their views on copyright.
This has been a very valuable exercise. I have learned a lot about copyright, both in theory and in practice, from these seminars. As I understand it, the group will continue to meet after the summer break, which I think is very good.
The Working Group on Copyright is chaired by French MEP Marielle Gallo from the large Christian Democrat group EPP. She is also rapporteur (i.e.: the responsible draftsperson) for the Gallo report on Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement, that was adopted by JURI last week.
Although the Gallo report and the working group are not formally connected to each other, the working group has provided a very useful opportunity to learn more about the subject covered by the report.
Apart from the experts, we have also had several chances to hear what different stakeholders and special interest lobbyists have had to say.
This week, Mr. Ted Shapiro from the Motion Picture Association MPA and Ms. Olivia Regnier from the record producers’ organization IFPI were kind enough to come and explain their views to the working group, together with two other speakers. MPA and IFPI are typical examples of stakeholder organizations.
Ms. Regnier from IFPI talked about how many fantastic things the record companies would put on the market if only on-line piracy could be eliminated or reduced. To achieve this, she was asking for information campaigns aimed at Internet users, and stricter sanctions against copyright infringers.
She showed this slide:
Incidentally, this happens to be exactly what the Gallo report in the form that it was adopted in JURI proposes. Information campaigns about copyright directed at Internet users, and sanctions handed out by the Internet Service Provider companies, without involvement of courts.
But leaving all other aspects aside, do we have any reason to think that this will be effective?
When it was my turn to ask a question, I reminded IFPI and the MPA that they have more than a decade’s experience of this strategy, from both the US and Europe. It was in 1998 that DMCA, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, was adopted in the US. In Europe we have seen a number new laws for stricter enforcement being introduced over the years, notably the 2001 Copyright Directive EUCD. We have also seen a number of information campaigns, often equating file sharing with theft.
With so much experience from a number of countries, the rights holder’s organizatons are of course in a very good position to judge how effective the strategy has been.
”Could you tell us about these experiences, and could you give any examples where illegal file sharing in a country had been eliminated or greatly reduced by information campaigns and sanctions?” I asked the representatives from IFPI and the MPA.
Ms. Regnier from IFPI said that so far the strategy had not been very successful. This is because the rights holders are forced to go through the courts to punish illegal file sharers, which severely restricts the number of cases they are able to pursue.
IFPI and the other rights holders would need to make a more wide scale mass response in order to create an effective deterrent, she said. For this reason, she was welcoming the adoption of the Gallo report in the JURI Committee.
When it came to giving an example of a country where stricter enforcement had led to significantly reduced file sharing, she mentioned Sweden, where the IPRED directive was implemented on April 1, 2009.
So let’s look at the graph for the total Internet traffic in Sweden:
It is indeed true that there was a sharp drop in the total network traffic by about 40 per cent on the day the IPRED law came into force. IFPI and the other anti-piracy organizations in Sweden immediately sent out jubilant press releases saying that the IPRED law really worked. This has been the line that they have maintained ever since.
But when we look at the graph, we se that six months later, the network traffic was back to where it used to be. If this was a success for the sanctions strategy against file sharing, it was a very short lived one.
And this is how it has been all over the world. Just like Ms. Regnier told the European Parliament Working Group, information to Internet users and stricter sanctions have so far been unable to stem the tide of illegal file sharing. But they still hope that more of the same will be effective.
I am very grateful to Ms. Regnier for her frank answers to the working group, and for making IFPI’s position so clear.
But I’m afraid that she failed to convince me. I don’t think that more information and sanctions will work any better this time than the previous ones, no matter how much some stakeholders would want them to.
I think it’s time for Europe to start looking for a better way.
Update: I had spelled Ms. Regnier’s name wrong, for which I apologize. I have now corrected that.
Photos by Christian Engström, free for publication CC0.