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Europe to Unveil Plans to Reform Copyright, Introduce Digital Single Market

European Union Commission building
John Thys/AFP/Getty Images

European Union Commission building at the EU Headquarters in Brussels. 

The European Commission proposals will give digital cross-border access to films and music purchased online but critics fear it could kill the Euro film business.

The European Commission has unveiled wide-ranging proposals that will overhaul Europe's copyright laws and see the introduction of a borderless digital single market across all 28 countries in the European Union.

The plan, expected to become law by 2017, would tear down online barriers, allowing European consumers who buy services online -- including SVOD services like Netflix -- to access them in other EU countries, avoiding so-called geo-blocking.

Together with new legislation that, from 2017, will eliminate roaming charges across the EU for mobile services, the proposals look to create a true digital single market across Europe.

"Seven months ago, we promised fast delivery of the Digital Single Market. Today we present our first proposals,” said Andrus Ansip, European Commission vice-president for the Digital Single Market, in a statement. “We want to ensure the portability of content across borders. People who legally buy content -- films, books, football matches, TV series -- must be able to carry it with them anywhere they go in Europe...We want to strengthen European R&D, using technologies like text and data mining. The Digital Single Market is the blueprint for Europe claiming its place in the digital era, today we start making it a reality."

IMPALA, an association of independent music companies, welcomes the changes. "It’s time to get rid of friction in the licensing market, and particularly the so-called ‘value gap’. Some of the biggest online distributors of music are under-licensed or not licensed at all. We welcome the EU’s ambition to fix this and level the playing field. This will benefit all actors across the value chain and help grow the pie," writes executive chair Helen Smith in a statement.

On the EC's proposal is the treatment of digital goods the Commission writes:

Clear and specific rights for digital content: For instance, a consumer who downloads a game which is then not working properly may currently receive as compensation only a discount on downloading other games in the future. With the proposed directive, consumers will be able to request such problems to be fixed and, if this is not feasible or not done properly, to obtain a price reduction or terminate the contract and be fully reimbursed.

The proponents say the legislation will boost cross-border consumption in Europe by up to $19.6 billion (€18 billion) and raise overall GDP in the region by $4.36 billion (€4 billion). The plan will also harmonize laws for digital contracts and copyright legislation across the EU.

The latter is perhaps the most controversial aspect of the legislation. Many in Europe's film and television industries have warned reforming copyright to create a single market out of the continent's 26 nations could destroy the foundation of the media business here. The film business, for example, relies on territoriality -- the ability to exclusively license films to a single EU country -- for financing and exploitation.

The European Commission has repeatedly assured the industry that territoriality will not be eliminated under the new legislation but many still fear the changes will mainly benefit large companies with pan-European operations -- like Netflix or Google -- and not the small and mid-sized companies that make up the bulk of the European film industry.

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