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Copyright isn't working, says European Commission


People have come to see copyright as a tool of punishment, Europe's technology chief has said in her strongest-yet attack on the current copyright system.

Digital agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes said on Saturday that the creative industries had to embrace rather than resist new technological ways of distributing artistic works. She added that the existing copyright system was not rewarding the vast majority of artists. 

"Is the current copyright system the right and only tool to achieve our objectives? Not really," Kroes said in a speech to the Forum D'Avignon thinktank. "Citizens increasingly hear the word copyright and hate what is behind it."

"Sadly, many see the current system as a tool to punish and withhold, not a tool to recognise and reward," Kroes added.

The commissioner said online distribution and cloud computing offered a "totally new way of purchasing, delivering and consuming cultural works", and suggested that the existing legal framework around copyright was not flexible enough to take advantage of this evolution.

Rights-holders have long complained about the damage done to their industry by online copyright infringement. Governments and courts in countries including the UK have responded by blocking access to websites that help people unlawfully share music, videos, games and software.

Some countries, such as New Zealand and France, also threaten repeat infringers with suspension or disconnection of their broadband services.

Kroes's speech was not the first time the creative industries have been taken to task for not sufficiently adapting to the digital age. The commissioner herself has said she intends to overcome the content industry's failure to agree pan-EU licensing deals, and the fact that countries such as the UK tax e-books more highly than they do physical books.

According to Kroes, in one large EU country 97.5 percent of artists earn less than €1,000 (£856) a month from the copyright system. "This is a devastatingly hard way to earn a living," she said.

The commissioner did not provide any definitive answers as to what should replace the current copyright system, apart from saying it those advocating new business models should get a fairer hearing than they do at present.

"In times of change, we need creativity, out-of-the-box thinking: creative art to overcome this difficult period and creative business models to monetise the art," Kroes said. "New ideas which could benefit artists are killed before they can show their merit, dead on arrival. This needs to change."

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