1709 Blog: for all the copyright community

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Internet openness and copyright: Google and EU Commission agree

Sergey Brin
So far, this week has been very interesting as regards internet openness, also because of converging views from industry and politics.

Last Sunday, Google co-founder Sergey Brin had an interview with The Guardian, in which he talked about the challenges facing the principles of openness and universal access. These have been considered as cornerstones of the internet for three decades. Brin explained that there are "very powerful forces that have lined up against the open internet on all sides and around the world". Because of this, he is "more worried than [he has] been in the past ... It's scary." Threats to internet openness come from a combination of factors, these being (1) attempts by governments to control access and communication; (2) efforts by the entertainment industry to crack down on piracy; and (3) the rise of restrictive walled garden such as Facebook and Apple, which are busy controlling what software can be released on their platforms.
Neelie Kroes
Very similar concerns have been expressed today by Neelie Kroes, Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda, at the World Wide Web Conference in Lyon. Indeed, her opening remarks echoed those of Sergey Brin:

The best thing about the Internet is that it is open. Indeed it's built on the idea that every device can talk to every other, using a common, open language. That's what explains its seemingly endless growth."

Commission's Vice-President further elaborated on this:

Does getting these in the mail
qualify as harassment?
"Only the other day, the Free Software Foundation wrote to me about open standards. With their letter they enclosed something I don't normally get in the mail, a pair of handcuffs. Because they're worried about 'digital handcuffs', and wanted to know if I am with them on openness. And the answer is yes. Let me show you, these handcuffs are not closed, not locked. I can open them if and when I want. That's what I mean by being open online, what it means to me to get rid of 'digital handcuffs' ... The benefits of openness are clear. And when it’s as simple as an oppressive government trying to turn off the Internet, it's clear that we need to do what we can to prevent that."


Cutting-edge techniques to change one's own mindset
In Kroes’s speech there was room for copyright, too. Perhaps a bit cryptically, but there was a reference to the need for new rules in the digital environment.

"Sometimes the problem is ancient, pre-digital rules that we need to cut back or make more flexible. Other times, openness actually flows from strengthening regulation. And sometimes it's not about changing the rules at all, but about changing a mindset. People need to realise: they don't have to look backwards to the constraints and habits of the past; they can look forward to the open opportunities of the future. But that can take time."

Speaking specifically of copyright, Ms Kroes confirmed what the Head of Unit - Copyright, DG Internal Market & Services, Maria Martin-Prat, mentioned last week at the Fordham IP Conference (see earlier 1709 Blog post here). In particular, the complicating licensing systems for copyrighted material in Europe is deemed to prevent Europeans from enjoying great content and discourage business innovation, thus failing to serve the creative people in whose name they were established.

"Indeed, whether you're talking about audiovisual works or scientific information, current systems don't respond nearly well enough to online realities. And these are both areas we are looking at, including through updating EU copyright rules. And through new recommendations on access to publicly funded scientific research results and data."

Having said this, Ms Kroes, in line with Mr Brin, added that openness does not come at the expense of privacy or safety, as fundamental rights, liberty and security are guaranteed together. Being born very suspicious, this blogger spotted here a reference to legislative initiatives which are now discussed in Europe and the US. In particular, it is not difficult to think of ACTA and all the bustle it has been creating worldwide. The reference can also include other ongoing initiatives, at the level of EU Member States and the US alike. As to the former, one may think of the debate in the UK over email and web use monitoring (here). As to the latter, it may not be difficult to spot a reference to new US proposed legislation (now that SOPA and PIPA are in disgrace) known as Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, or CISPA.    

Stay tuned for the next moves.

1 comment:

CNY Guy said...

“The best thing about the Internet is that it is open. Indeed it's built on the idea that every device can talk to every other, using a common, open language. That's what explains its seemingly endless growth."

That is exactly what the internet is, open. I think it is important to note that people for free, open internet are not against regulation.

"...People need to realise: they don't have to look backwards to the constraints and habits of the past; they can look forward to the open opportunities of the future."

Regulation is a very important part of the internet and would be supported and accepted as long as it does not hinder access to the internet or free speech.