European regulators, legislators, and lobbyists are slowly working their way towards the creation of a single EU-wide digital market which will enable creators to release their content under a single license, let retailers sell that content across the EU, and let consumers access that content no matter where they are in the EU.
That sounds like a great idea, doesn't it?
Yes it does, but it also means change is coming and that has the UK Publishers Association terrified.
On Wednesday the Publishers Association released a paper which supposedly debunks a set of ten copyright "myths"concerning the proposed single digital market. In reality, these aren't myths being debunked so much as they are straw man arguments intended to frame the official position of the Publishers Association.
Each of the "facts" presented aren't facts so much as they are policies that the PA would like to see come to pass as the EU moves to a single digital market. And when you consider it from that angle, it's clear that the PA is arguing not from principle but from their pocketbook.
For example, the first two "myths" are:
Copyright needs to be modernised to achieve the digital single market.
Exceptions need to be harmonised so that rights don’t change at each border.
These two claims are really the same claim, repeated, and they are not so much myths as a necessary step in creating a single digital market.
One would ideally harmonize EU copyright law by modernizing it so that all consumers in all EU member states would have the same rights and that all sellers would know that they can sell from country A to countries B, C, and D and only keep track of a single set of consumer rights laws. Otherwise the retailer would have to cope with multiple sets of consumer rights exceptions.
To name one example, consumers in the Netherlands currently have the right to resell ebooks. The rest of the EU does not, and the Publishers Association would like it to stay that way even though it would either effectively split that single digital Market in two in two, or force sellers to deny Dutch consumers their rights.
The PA opposes this because "Imposing a single order on the whole of the EU’s creators would almost inevitably cause some to have their rights eroded". In other words, harmonizing and modernizing EU copyright law would involve change which could impact the PA members' pocketbooks.
That opposition to change also explains the 4th claim that the PA tries to debunk in the position paper:
University students can’t access online resources across borders.
This feeds back into the claim that there's no need to harmonize copyright law across the EU. As anyone who has traveled internationally can tell you this claim is completely true, and the PA's denial nothing but a load of horse manure.
The PA would remind you that the "licences under which publishers provide universities with material do permit students to access course materials from anywhere in the EU". That may be true but the PA is hoping that you forget that there is more to school work that the content licensed from publishers to universities.
I can't speak to the specific problems faced by students, but I do recall that one of the gripes mentioned when I last covered the single digital market proposal in March was that Netflix, to name one example, was not accessible in over half of EU member states. If the students are told to watch a video which happens to be hosted on Netflix, their choices are either to not leave the country (or cheat by using a VPN). In either case, they are still hampered by the border.
Similarly, when the PA denies the possibility that
School teachers are not able to access resources published in other member states
what they are hoping you will forget is the crazy quilt of territorial restrictions that restrict access to, for example, Youtube. They would rather have schools license content from publishers.
What's more, the PA defends their position with the point that "the supply and demand for such materials is highly country-specific and cross-border requirements are minimal". The argument ignores the point that lowering barriers will make it easier for teachers to use content created in other parts of the EU, and that it will also create opportunities for teachers in one EU member state to teach students residing in other EU member states.
That last point shows a singular lack of vision on the part of the PA; there is money and opportunity in those online classes.
In all, at least five of the Publishers Association's positions derive from a principled defense of their pocketbook, including the last point they argue against:
An ebook is the same as a normal book and therefore I should be able to resell it.
I was tempted to skip this, but I thought the arguments against it were worth. The PA thinks that it's "clear that the existence of a market for second hand digital copies will destroy the primary market for authors and publishers".
As the supplier of the primary market the Publishers Association would naturally be opposed to a secondary market, and thus any argument they make is suspect.
More importantly, given that piracy (what is effectively a market with no prices at all) has not killed the primary market it beggars disbelief that a resale market, where consumers would actually have to fork over their hard-earned euros, would have that effect.
If you would like to read the Publishers Association's position paper, you can find it on their website. The paper covers an additional 5 points which I have not addressed, but I expect that Techdirt will make up for the lack in the next few days.