The European Commission (EC) has put forward proposals to revise copyright and e-commerce contract regulations in a bid to advance its Digital Single Market strategy.
One proposal is to modernise European Union (EU) copyright rules to allow people travelling across the continent to remain connected to online services and digital content.
As it stands, people crossing between EU countries may find that access to online services such as Netflix or Spotify is disrupted due to different copyright laws in different nations.
The EC plans to solve this by 2017 by introducing a regulation that enables cross-border ‘portability' of online content services. This will involve harmonising rules across all 28 EU member states.
"Our aims are to allow a better circulation of content, offer more choice to Europeans, to strengthen cultural diversity and provide more opportunities for the creative sector," the Commission said.
Tied in with this is the Commission's plan to introduce a new EU copyright framework in 2016 that is designed to reflect and facilitate citizens' growing use of digital services and content.
This wider framework has four specific aims. The first is to facilitate wider access to digital content across the EU by enabling cross-border portability.
The second involves identifying and clarifying exceptions to copyright to enable researchers and people in education to have more equal access to information across the EU.
A third goal is the identification of incidences where copyrighted online content can be fairly shared without undercutting the investment its creators have put into it.
The final aim is to fight piracy through enabling wider yet legal access to digital content, as the Commission believes that a lack of content access propagates illegal downloads and piracy.
At the same time, it also plans to fight piracy through the enforcement of copyright and intellectual property rights and the prosecution of businesses that profit from piracy.
The Commission has also proposed new digital contract rules to better facilitate cross-border e-commerce in the EU.
Under current regulations businesses looking to engage in cross-border e-commerce have to spend a lot of money adapting to the different consumer contract laws of each member state they wish to sell to.
This has the effect of reducing international e-commerce for all but the largest of businesses, meaning most online purchases happen within a nation, with only 12 percent of EU retailers selling online to consumers in other countries.
For consumers buying goods online, the differences in contract law between member states means they might not have the same level of protection that they enjoy in their home nation when buying from another EU country. Different laws mean different approaches to undelivered orders or damaged products, for example.
To tackle these issues, the Commission has proposed a framework that would enable both consumers and e-commerce businesses to operate under a single contract law.
Věra Jourová, commissioner for justice, consumers and gender equality at the European Commission, outlined the benefits the plan could have for both EU businesses and consumers.
"Today's proposals will give confidence to consumers to buy across borders and offer simplification for businesses, especially SMEs, selling online across Europe. The internet has lifted technological barriers to a Digital Single Market; with the digital contracts proposals we want to lift legal barriers," she said.
"Harmonising contractual rights throughout the EU will facilitate the supply of both digital content and goods across Europe. Consumers will benefit from simple and modernised rules; businesses from more legal certainty, cheaper and easier ways to expand their activities. This in turn will bring more choice at competitive prices to consumers."
Driving the Digital Single Market
The Digital Single Market concept has been welcomed by both politicians and technology organisation as a means to boost the EU's economy.
The UK government has thrown its weight behind the proposals, which it sees as being vital to the growth of the UK's technology sector.
"A lot of our coherence comes from a single level of direction from the prime minister, and he's very clear that this is an area that the UK should be leading on, that this is fundamental to UK competitiveness, and fundamental to EU competitiveness," said Alesha De-freitas, head of digital single market at the Department for Business, Innovation, speaking at a TechUK event attended by V3 earlier this year.
As an organisation representing more than 700 UK technology companies, TechUK itself has also praised the government's support for the Digital Single Market.
"The government's support for EU Digital Single Market initiative... is welcome, and government must continue to work to get the detail right. A leading UK digital economy in 2020 will be fuelled by smart use of data, and the UK must continue to engage on important negotiations on new EU data rules, which could underpin or undermine a truly productive data-driven digital economy," said Julian David, chief executive at TechUK.
The Digital Single Market, which the EC aims to have in place in 2017, would see the removal of mobile roaming charges across the EU.
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