Directive to be fully enforceable within 18 months

BRUSSELS — Rights holders in Europe will soon be able to use encryption to prevent illegal copying of their work on the Internet, following an agreement reached Monday by EU industry ministers.

The EU’s bill on digital copyright passed its final hurdle when ministers regulating Europe’s internal market agreed to accept controversial amendments made to the draft in February by the European Parliament.

The Parliament, the EU’s directly elected legislature, had voted in February to support guidelines giving much less protection for rights holders than had originally been hoped for. The ministerial seal of approval for these amendments means the copyright directive will now be incorporated into national law in the EU’s 15 member countries, and will be fully enforceable within 18 months.

To the disappointment of film and music companies owning rights in Europe, the rules do not go all the way toward making watertight the guidelines on copying. One of a number of exceptions to copying, for instance, states that “temporary acts of reproduction will be allowed where these are transient or incidental and form an integral and essential part of a technological process.” This will mean that no charges will be made for cache copies — temporary copies made online when material is sent via the Internet.

Complicated road

Three years in the making, the copyright directive has been one of the most fiercely lobbied pieces of legislation to work its way through the complex EU system. Nearly 200 changes were put forward to the draft text when it was read in the Parliament in February.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, said in a statement that the directive “secures the legitimate interests of users, consumers and society at large.” The European Commissioner responsible for the EU’s internal market, Frits Bolkestein, welcomed the ministers’ approval. “Not only is this directive the most important measure ever to be adopted by Europe in the copyright field, but it brings European copyright rules into the digital age,” Bolkestein said.

The law is the EU’s answer to the U.S.’ Digital Millennium Act. Globally, both seek to implement the WIPO Copyright Treaty, which enshrines worldwide principles on copyright in the digital age.

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