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Today the European Parliament passed with an overwhelming majority – 531 voting in favor, 11 against and 65 abstentions – a compromise proposal for a directive on certain permitted uses of orphan works. In Europe, orphan works are a much greater problem than, for example, in the USA, because European copyright has for a much longer time featured automatic protection. As a consequence, finding rights holders is more difficult than in the USA, where works had to be registered until the end of the 1980s. And due to ever-longer protection terms, the number of orphan works is going to increase even further every year, making access to our common cultural heritage increasingly difficult.
The so-called orphan works directive addresses the problem by allowing public-sector institutions such as libraries, museums, archives, educational establishments and film heritage institutions to digitize and publicize orphan works after conducting a “diligent search”. What constitutes a “diligant search” is outlined in more detail in a “Memorandum of Understanding on Diligent Search Guidelines for Orphan Works”.
In the history of copyright law, legislation in Europe and the US have wound each other up more and more. Everytime when there was a copyright term extension on one side of the ocean, lobbyists on the other side started finger pointing, demanding the same rights to protect artists and the industry. A recent example for such regulatory inspiration has been the EU database directive, which created a sui generis right for the creators of databases which do not qualify for copyright. Ever since this directive had been passed in Europe, lobbyists in the US have tried to introduce a similar provision into US copyright law (see Boyle 2008: 207 ff.). Such regulatory inspiration is neither new nor surprising nor restricted to the domain of copyright.
However, what has been leaked in the Wikileaks cables on the influence of the US on the new Spanish copyright law is way beyond mere inspiration for lobbyists. As reported by the Guardian, in this case the lobbyist has been the US government itself:
The US ambassador in Madrid threatened Spain with “retaliation actions” if the country did not pass tough new internet piracy laws, according to leaked documents. […] In his letter, Solomont [i.e. the US ambassedor] issued veiled threats, reminding its recipients that Spain is on the Special 301, the US trade representatives’ list of countries that do not provide “adequate and effective” protection of intellectual property rights. Spain risks having its position on the list “degraded”, and could join the real blacklist of “the worst violators of global intellectual property rights.”
The following video is a trailer of an ethnographic film that arose during the course of my PhD project at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies:
The implementation of the EU’s main nature conservation program, Natura 2000, has more side effects than Brussels’ bureaucrats envisaged. Two village communities own common forests and pastures in Natura 2000 protected areas – one located in Vrancea Romania and the other in Galicia, Spain. Both are struggling to defend their rights to access natural resources, vital for the local economy. However, communities are not homogenous and different discourses get shaped during the village assemblies where people seem to prime their immediate needs. Culiţǎ, a 45 year old forestry worker, and Henar, a Galician farmer, build on the collective memories of disspossetion an active resistance behavior against the EU’s Natura 2000 program. Yet, the makeshift ethos in the first community, and the demographic decline in the second seem to lead to the failure of a coherent collective resistance.
In his recent article “Decoding Divergence in Software Regulation”* Thomas Eimer very convincingly demonstrates and explains differences in software patent regulation between the United States and the European Union. He basically distinguishes three “structural causes for the persisting divergence” (p. 276) – namely the US practice of patenting software versus the European reluctance of doing so: (1) incompatible underlying paradigms, (2) differentiated patterns of power structure, and (3) unsynchronized institutional arrangements.
Especially in dealing with the first cause, “paradigmatic cleavage”, Eimer argues rather broadly, embracing both patent and copyright law. And I completely agree, when he contrasts the strong “utilitarian” rationale of intellectual property rights in the US with European scepticism for such utilitarian reasoning. I am not so sure, however, that the partial rejection of utilitarian welfare assumptions automatically leads to a better balance between “public and private interests” in the field of intellectual property regulation in general, as implied by Eimer when he writes: “Opponents of strong intellectual property rights in Europe can refer to a long tradition of suspicion”. Read the rest of this entry »