EU Pushes for Single Online Content Market

The European Commission wants to scrap the patchwork of national rules governing what music and movies consumers can download from the Internet, and instead create one marketplace for everyone in the European Union, commissioners Vivane Reding and Meglana Kuneva said Tuesday.

Shopping around for cheaper downloads in neighboring countries is currently illegal because of the patchwork of licensing regimes that exist across the 27 country bloc.

Obstacles to creating a properly functioning single market for online content in Europe come from collecting societies that collect royalties on behalf of record companies, musicians and music publishers, said Reding, the commissioner for information society. Collecting societies have traditionally divided the European market along national boundaries. They have resisted moves to allow cross-border price competition, arguing that such a measure would hurt musicians.

As a result Fnac, the French retailer, for example, only allows people with credit cards issued in France to buy online content from its Internet store. Similarly, the BBC, the U.K.'s biggest broadcasting company, prevents anyone outside the U.K. from watching its TV programs online after their initial broadcast.

A Europe-wide copyright license for online content would mean lower prices for consumers, which would in turn deter people from illegally downloading pirated material, said Reding.

Similarly, the Commission wants to create a single rule across the E.U. for copying downloaded material for private use, Kuneva, the consumer affairs commissioner, said at a joint press conference with Reding in Strasbourg, France, on Tuesday.

Under E.U. copyright rules passed in 2001 the question of private copying of digital material is left to national authorities. In the U.K. and Ireland, consumers aren't even allowed to make one copy of a copyright-protected song they bought off the Internet, while other countries allow limited numbers of copies.

"At the moment consumers are told what they can't do with downloaded material, not what they can do," Kuneva said. "We want to change that by creating a clear, harmonized definition of what is copyable across the E.U."

Kuneva and Reding announced their intentions to improve the conditions for online shoppers as they unveiled the Web site eYouGuide.eu, which gives practical advice on consumers' digital rights under E.U. law.

The guide explains what rights consumers have online. For example, if you buy something over the Internet and the goods don't arrive within a month, then you are automatically entitled to a refund. Similarly, you have a seven-day cooling-off period after making an online purchase, during which time you can change your mind and cancel the order, no questions asked.

The guide also explains people's rights to privacy and the protection of their data.

A study by the Commission shows that while a third of European citizens are keen to take advantage of cheaper prices from Web sites in neighboring countries, only 7 percent actually do so.

Only 12 percent of E.U. Web users feel safe making transactions on the Internet, while 39 percent of them have major doubts about safety, and 42 percent do not make financial transactions online.

"Internet has everything to offer consumers, but we need to build trust so that people can shop around with peace of mind," said Kuneva.

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