Britain and France have been the primary copyright hawks in the EU, pushing for stronger distribution monopolies and harsher penalties at every turn. With Brexit in the cards, and a possible Frexit following this spring’s French elections, a hypothetical future EU copyright law looks much more sensible. Let’s review the dynamics at play.
Britain has already voted to exit the European Union, and with the possiblility of Marine le Pen winning the presidency in France, along with a campaign promise to leave the eurozone and/or the entire EU if she wins, there’s a possibility France will also be preparing an exit soon. In order to understand what impact these developments may have on future copyright legislation, let’s take a look at the dynamics at play over the last decade and how France and Britain have used their influence on the Union.
When the EU massively expanded eastward on May 1, 2004, the copyright industry realized the expansion would mean a permanent shift against evermore-policies of evermore-copyright: Eastern Europe isn’t fond of this rich-man’s-protectionism scheme at all. Therefore, the copyright industry tried their damndest to get everything they could crammed through the door before the expansion date, the date Eastern Europe would get their voting rights in the Union, in the so-called IPRED federal law (“directive”) – the IPR Enforcement Directive. This legislative package gave the copyright industry more far-reaching powers than the Police in many European states. Yes, you read that right: it gave the private copyright industry the right to break anonymity and privacy in many cases where the Police weren’t allowed to.
The idea was to cram much more into the directive, including four-year prison sentences for sharing music, but time was running out toward the EU expansion date, and so everything contested was cut out in order to pass what had been agreed on (IPRED), with the four-year-prison parts and more pushed out to a later successor package, IPRED2. This successor directive failed and was withdrawn in 2010, since power had indeed shifted permanently. The intended IPRED2 directive also had the side effect of criminalizing a lot of open-source software development, as it also criminalized patent infringements – something that has always been a purely civil issue – and that contributed to scuttling it as a Generally Very Bad Idea.
So how does this relate to France? That federal law which gave the copyright industry more powers than the Police, the original IPRED, was spearheaded in the European Parliament by a French Member of European Parliament (MEP) named Jannelly Fourtou. Jannelly is married to Jean-Réné Fourtou, who was the Chairman and CEO of Vivendi Universal during this time. Yes, this means that Vivendi – one of the big record labels – was essentially writing draconian European copyright law in 2002-2004.
France continues to be draconian in this area. One of the MEPs infamous for harsher industrial protectionism was the French Marielle Gallo, who was one of the people fighting hardest for the passage of ACTA, even in the face of massive protests across Europe. (“I know better what these people need than they do”, is an authentic quote from her in Parliament on the matter.) Gallo was defeated in the matter and no longer works in the European Parliament, having been replaced by people who hopefully understand the Internet just a little bit better.
So much for France. So what about Britain? Well, Britain is currently preparing laws that enable ten years in prison for sharing music and TV. Does that sound sensible to you – that sharing music with a stranger is worse than, say, aggravated sexual assault? Britain with its record industry (that’s record industry, as in making small silly round pieces of plastic, as opposed to music industry) has been a major powerhouse in the EU.
In other words, without these two draconian powerhouses, the much more sensible powerhouses like Poland will instead set the tone for industrial protectionism in Europe, leading to completely different policy moving forward – one where the old record labels don’t get to dictate policy. While there are a few other draconian countries, like Denmark, they’re of small influence compared to the big players.
This reasoning, of course, ignores the much bigger picture that a potential European Union without Britain and France is not the European Union as we know it today but something entirely different. But as this post has shown, that can also be a good thing, at least from some aspects.
As a final sidetrack here, it’s interesting to note that Britain and France are the only two countries in Europe with the kind of two-party system that the United States has, and which was constructed to resist temporary fads of populism at the cost of having a high inertia to actual change. Therefore, when real change happens (like with the Internet arriving 20 years ago), such countries will be the slowest to see its policy adapt to new circumstances. This is interesting to watch in the light of these countries clinging the hardest to old structures.
Meanwhile, and especially in times of change, privacy remains your own responsibility.