Mozilla's chief innovation officer has called for the European Union to reform its copyright laws, claiming that the excessively stringent application of copyright rules introduced in 2001 hampers innovation and economic development.
Katharina Borchert, former CEO at Mozilla, explained that outdated and harmful rules slow the development of the internet economy in Europe and stop great ideas from being brought to market.
"The internet brings new ideas to life every day, and helps make existing ideas better. As a result, we need laws that protect and enshrine the internet as an open and collaborative platform," Borchert said in a blog post.
"But in the EU, certain laws haven't caught up with the internet. The current copyright legal framework is outdated. It stifles opportunity and prevents, and in many cases legally prohibits, artists, coders and everyone else creating and innovating online.
"This framework was enacted before the internet changed the way we live. As a result, these laws clash with life in the 21st century."
Borchert gave some examples of these laws, and they do seem to get in the way of what has become modern living.
"It's illegal to share a picture of the Eiffel Tower light display at night. The display is copyrighted and tourists don't have the artists' express permission. In some parts of the EU, making a meme is technically unlawful. There is no EU-wide fair use exception," she said
Mozilla wants a reform of the EU's copyright framework, which is not going to be easy and most certainly won't be brief. Mozilla suggested that a petition might help smooth the passage.
EU insiders, including former EU Digital Agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes, have already given this a go.
"It's time our laws caught up with our technology. Now is the time to make a difference. This [autumn] the European Commission plans to reform the EU copyright framework," added Borchert.
"Mozilla is calling on the Commission to enact reform. And we're rallying and educating citizens to do the same. Today, Mozilla is launching a campaign to bring copyright law into the 21st century."
Mozilla is not the first company to propose that fair use needs a rethink in legal terms. EU copyright law was last updated in 2001 and a lot has happened since then.
"Copyright can be valuable in promoting education, research and creativity [but] not if it's out of date and excessively restrictive. The EU's current copyright laws were passed in 2001 before most of us had smartphones," Borchert said.
"We need to update and harmonise the rules so we can tinker, create, share and learn on the internet. Education, parody, panorama, remix and analysis shouldn't be unlawful.
"Technology advances at a rapid pace, and laws can't keep up. That's why our laws must be future-proof, designed so they remain relevant in five, 10 or even 15 years. We need to allow new uses of copyrighted works in order to expand growth and innovation."
Mozilla warned that the internet will break and party spoilers will win the day unless there is some kind of exception for user-generated content that allows people to create things like memes.
"A key part of what makes the internet awesome is the principle of innovation without permission, that anyone, anywhere, can create and reach an audience without anyone standing in the way," she added.
"But that key principle is under threat. Some people are calling for licensing fees and restrictions on internet companies for basic things like creating hyperlinks or uploading content.
"Others are calling for new laws that would mandate monitoring and filtering online. These changes would establish gatekeepers and barriers to entry online, and would risk undermining the internet as a platform for economic growth and free expression."
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