European Commissioners look at business practices and consumer rights

August 2008

Music publishing, record labels

The Guardian has reported on a draft decision from the European Commission which, if adopted, would lead to major reforms of Europe’s music collecting societies. According to the report, the draft, which has not yet been signed by EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes, berates the fact that the collecting societies operate as monopolies within their national borders, partitioning the EU market on national lines. It gives the collecting societies 90 days to terminate their agreements and calls on them to cross-license. The draft has been criticised for not going far enough to break down national monopolies. The IPKat notes that, from what little information is available, it seems that the Commission isn’t too worried about the notion of collecting societies, but rather about the way in which they operate territorially. This territoriality is understandable, since copyright has grown up as a system of national rights with a slightly different focus in the different Member States.

Here are edited highlights of what NeelieKroes said at the OpenForum European Breakfast seminar,‘Being Open About standards’ :

“It is simplistic to assume that because some intellectual property protection is good, that such protection should therefore be absolute in all circumstances.
It is simplistic to assume that because standardisation sometimes brings benefits, more standardisation will bring more benefits.
It is simplistic to assume that if the best approach is sometimes to base a standard on proprietary technology, then that is always the best approach.
And it is simplistic to assume that we can fix on a standard today, without paying attention to the risk of being locked-in tomorrow”.

And here’s what the EU Consumer Commissioner for Consumer Affairs, Meglena Kuneva has been saying (the third EU commissioners mentioned in one month!). The Commissioner has put a heavy emphasis on online issues, firstly criticising the fact that music downloaded from Apple’s iTunes music store can play only on Apple’s iPod music players. In a speech in London last month she outlined her online priorities calling for the removal of “artificial geographical restrictions” that force consumers in Europe to buy goods online from Web sites specific to their countries, sometimes leading to terms, prices and selections that vary from country to country. “In the world we live in, we are not obliged to shop in the supermarkets and stores of our postal code,” she said during the speech. “We should also not be forced to shop within our national borders. Yet we cannot buy computers, train tickets or PlayStations freely across the EU.” Kuneva acknowledged that some of the differences could be attributed to complex laws that vary from country to country in Europe. She said she would propose a framework of consumer contract law this fall, covering both online and offline retail, that would simplify the rules across Europe. She said that, for years, consumers in the United Kingdom paid higher prices for music bought from the iTunes music store than in other countries in Europe. That practice ended in January after Apple cut its prices in the aftermath of negotiations between the company and the European Union (although currency fluctuations almost negated the need to do this as the Euro strengthened against sterling). Kuneva also said that she would address a different concern – that of that large amounts of data about users were being collected without their consent. “There always needs (to be) consent from the consumer, and (the) consumer must be absolutely aware that his or her data will be (the) subject of further commercial activity,” she said.

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