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German and European Officials Lay Out Plan for Copyright Overhaul

Reichstag Building Berlin, Germany
 Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Images

Night shot of the Reichstag Building, seat of the German parliament on March 03, 2014 in Berlin, Germany.

"Creative works are still goods or services. However, cultural works are not the same thing as cars or washing machines. For this reason, we will be arguing that it should be possible in the future for publishers to continue to obtain a share in authors' statutory rights to remuneration in the future," explained Heiko Maas, the German Federal Minister of Justice, speaking at a conference on copyright law in Berlin this past Tuesday evening. Maas announced that the German copyright system was to undergo a comprehensive reform.

Maas used his time on stage to lay out the Ministry's policy objectives for a new copyright law: "Total buyouts are still being executed at unreasonably low prices. Creative people attempting to resist this run the risk of being blacklisted, meaning that they are excluded from any future business. We will be changing this. We want to create a right of collective action for copyright associations. This will make it easier for creative people to actually obtain reasonable remuneration." He stressed the importance of fair participation in all uses, explaining that multiple use, across varying forms of online media, should be compensated for those various uses.

Despite the heavy protests by German publishers, Maas is seeking to introduce a right allowing creative people to withdraw their usage rights after a period of five years if they are able to find another party willing to utilize the work on more favorable terms. "Ultimately, what we are doing is reinforcing a creative person's right to receive information and proper accounts. This is something which should really go without saying in the case of quantity-based remuneration.”

Günther Oettinger, the Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society at the European Commission (EC) in Brussels, stated during the conference that one of the purposes of the planned European copyright law reform was to take greater account of creative workers' interests. He went on to say that with the rising scourge of piracy over the last decade and change it is necessary to push the pendulum back in the opposite direction. He announced that meetings among the relevant bodies in Brussels were currently underway on the draft copyright legislation.

The EC would first consider portability and geoblocking aspects. "If I acquire the right in Germany to use a digital service such as Sky Bundesliga, why is it that I am unable to utilize this right in Belgium or Romania?" Oettinger pointed out that the principle of free movement of citizens and labor meant that it should be possible to utilize bought content for a few days in any other EU country as well.

He also said that the new European legislation would be safeguarding exclusive rights and intellectual property; anyone transporting digital content is also responsible for it. He added that efforts to clamp down on piracy would be stepped up, stating that much progress could be achieved towards a joint EU solution if Germany and France would pull on "the same end of the rope."

"I think that it is particularly important not to lose sight of the overarching joint interests of creative people and those exploiting copyrights -- they are dependent on each other," said Monika Grütters, the German government's Minister of Culture. Intellectual production and cultural market work because artists are able to concentrate on their creative activity and creative companies are able to focus on the business - and because top sellers make it possible to additionally invest in works which may earn little or no money, Grütters said.

Talking to Billboard during the conference, the president of the German Music Publishers Association (DMV), Prof. Dr. Rolf Budde: "German music publishers are opposed to certain elements of the draft legislation as they pose existential risks to the music publishing industry. Plans to introduce a withdrawal right which may be exercised after five years would destroy the mutually beneficial relations between publishers and copyright holders which have thrived for many decades.

"The planned withdrawal right would threaten the very existence of classical and particularly contemporary music. Music publishers often act as patrons in this area, with business considerations, which are of crucial importance for any company, receding into the background. The fact that a classical music publisher will have no certainty of being able to retain the rights to a given work after five years will effectively make it impossible for it to continue holding rights to works even if it places a sense of cultural responsibility over business constraints.”

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