There is an obvious need for copyright reform. It is necessary in order to keep culture alive, dynamic and vigorous. And it is necessary if we want to keep the Internet free and open. (Read more about these specific issues here. »)
The EU is trying to get to grips with copyright in order to have a single, up to date set of rules for the entire European market. At the same time copyright holders, like the music- and film industry, would like to hold on to present rules–created to protect an old, pre-digital business model.
At the moment, the copyright industry puts its hope to the EU-US trade agreement (TTIP), being negotiated right now. The negotiations are secret. But we know that TTIP will contain a chapter on “intellectual property”. This might be yet another attempt to curb the freedom of the internet, in order to clamp down on illegal file sharing and other digital IP infringements. But if it is, chances are that TTIP will meet the same fate as the fallen ACTA agreement.
But it doesn’t have to be that obvious.
TTIP can also build on present copyright legislation in such a way that it will be more or less impossible to change these laws in the future, without breaking this binding trade agreement.
In fact, there is a highly controversial instrument in TTIP that might be used to kill all attempts to reform copyright legislation in the future. This is the article on investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS).
The idea behind ISDS is that a company in the US can take the EU or e.g. Denmark to court–if there are to be any new laws that might reduce that companys present (or future) profits. Well not take to court, actually. It’s more like a semi-private settlement institute, that can fine countries for billions of dollars in damages.
Now, imagine if the EU would like to reform copyright. European politicians might want to shorten the absurdly long protection time to, let’s say, 50 years. (If they could extend it, they should also be able to shorten it. Especially as copyright is an “asset” not found in nature, but a brainchild of politicians.) They might want to make exceptions for non-commercial sampling. They might want to make out of print classical literature or orphan works available to the public in digital form. They might want to step down the hunt for non-commercial file sharing. Or they might require that to receive copyright protection, the works in question must be registered.
This is the kind of things that ISDS is designed to stop. Either the EU would have to drop the reforms–or pay billions in damage.
(To add to the absurdity of this: In the example above only American companies would receive damage, not domestic European ones.)
So, yes: The TTIP might be used to kill an EU copyright reform. And Europe urgently need such a reform.
I might repeat myself, but I suggest that if the EU and the US would like to have this trade agreement approved–they should drop the IP chapter and ISDS. It might also be a good idea to open up the negotiations to democratic oversight, as these agreements have more or less the same effect as law.