Not to fix something working is a straight forward and easy enough maxim but one that seems very difficult to live by. In particular if you are a European Commission public servant…
A few years back the European Commission launched what they called an e-Commerce initiative, the aim was to further e-commerce in the EU. It was, for the Commission, a rather good initiative where EU internal trade barriers were, if not abolished, so at least substantially lowered and harmonised. All in all rather good. It has now been reviewed and it turns out the good EU officials have been inspired by Stop Online Piracy Act, SOPA, a very unfortunate turn of events. In practise this means that we now are blessed with yet another directive concerning free trade in the EU, this time one wanting to create a coherent framework for building trust in the Single Digital Market for e-commerce and on-line services. Already here the good people at the EU crash land – there isn’t a “digital market” there is (or should be) a Single European market, but whether the market exchanges are digital or not is really not for the European Commission to regulate. If the Commission really want to make a difference in the EU citizen’s life it should identify trade barriers and find solutions to how to abolish them and to ensure that (EU) cross boarder trade can be performed in a legal, safe and integrity protecting way. That’s it. No dividing into digital markets or other, a market is a market is a market.
Bar the tribulations on markets, what worries is the European Commission propose that it should give itself the possibility to ask ISPs to block content and to ask payment providers to with-hold money on demand from right-holders. It goes without saying that IP rights should be upheld, but I don’t think it is for an ISP to police its customers based on maybe arbitrary claims. From an EU citizens’ perspective, the EU is heading down a very slippery slope with these policy proposals. The advocacy group La Quadrature du Net has signalled that the E-commerce directive review could represent an erosion of rights, notably where ‘action’ or payment suppression is conducted in an extra-judicial process.
Overall, the E-commerce directive review suggests the European Commission is making a formal link between copyright and Internet policy.
According to Dr. Monica Horten:
The E-commerce directive to date has been the protector of the open Internet, notably the mere conduit provision. The review sets out pivotal changes which threaten that protecting role of mere conduit. Notably, the Commission wants to introduce a pan-European notice and action scheme. This is based on other ‘notice and takedown’ schemes (such as the one in the American DMCA law) but with an important difference. The proposed EU scheme uses the word ‘action’ instead of ‘takedown’, where action could mean asking hosts to take down content, but also would seem to mean blocking of content by ISPs on request.
Let’s face it while there certainly is need for lower trade barriers (in the EU) there is no need for (tax financed) European Commission incentives and directives to create markets; virtual or other. A market develops when someone has something to sell and someone wants to buy. This principle is as old has humankind and no public servant can change that. Or this is at least until now, because this proposal certainly does its best to hamper (free) trade.
Of course the European Commission made this review in the best of European citizens at heart. And the subsequent proposals are filled with the best of good intentions, but as we all know – so is the road to hell.