Posted on 05/Jan/2015
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Europe’s copyright rules have long been left behind by the exponential growth of digital technology. The existing EU framework rests on a directive from 2001, which was basically designed for an ‘analogue’ world.

The result is an outdated legal landscape that remains highly fragmented along national lines and looks ever more at odds with the borderless nature of the Internet.

Since its early days the new European Commission has pledged with great fanfare to fix the problem. It is now expected to unveil plans for copyright reform by this spring, the task being entrusted to the commissioner for the Digital Economy, Germany’s Günther Oettinger – with the commission’s Vice-President Andrus Ansip set to supervise the job. They better brace themselves for a bumpy ride. For the battle is about to turn nasty.

Copyright is one of Europe’s thorniest – and most polarizing – issues, with scores of vested interests pulling in opposite directions and (most) governments rather wary of relinquishing their national powers.

It is no wonder if the past decade has seen a series of EU-led initiatives flopping miserably. And it is not granted that Mr. Oettinger may succeed where his honourable predecessors failed. On paper he should have the experience and the political backing behind him to deliver.

After all, during his previous tenure as European commissioner for energy Mr. Oettinger had to deal with powerful lobbies. He can also count on strong support from the German government.But he is a newcomer to the complicated copyright dossier and admittedly he’s been given little time to think it through.

To be sure, the new digital commissioner will struggle to strike a satisfactory balance between right holders’ demands for protection (and esclusivity) and digital/telecoms players’ cries for more openness and flexibility. In fact, there are reasons to worry that he finds himself torn between the two opposing camps, ultimately giving birth to a botched, unambitious proposal that once again will prevent Europe from achieving an harmonized framework over copyright in sync with the digital times.

Norwegian politician Trygve Lie once described the post of Secretary-General of the United Nations, which he held for 6 years, as “the world’s most impossible job”. It is not exaggerated to say that Mr. Oettinger is about to grapple with Europe’s most impossible job.