E.U. Online Content Market Is 'shameful,' Says Commissioner

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The European Union's Competition Commissioner Joaquín Almunia has hit out at what he sees as Europe's failure to build a sustainable market for online content.

The online content market in the E.U. as "a shameful anachronism," he said.

However, the content industry was quick to defend its work.

"We are a modern, forward-looking industry, which invests in the future. At this stage, sales of e-books are still a nascent market but most publishers are proposing downloads of their books for those of the readers who would have acquired iPads or Kindles, or who read on their smart phones or even their computers," the CEO of the International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organisations (IFRRO), Olav Stokkmo, said Thursday.

The large number of languages spoken in Europe creates a natural fragmentation of the market for content, Stokkmo said, but he did not accept that it was shameful or anachronistic.

IFRRO is currently involved in the European Commission's Arrow project to create a pan-European digital library.

Almunia said the fragmented state of the market, a result of the cost and difficulty of distributing content E.U.-wide, is damaging to economic recovery. He was speaking at the Jevons Colloquium on Competition Policy in the Digital Media and the Internet on Wednesday.

Building an internal market for content is a key aim of the 2020 Agenda, Europe's growth plan for the next ten years.

"We need the innovation, the productivity and the jobs that the digital economy can bring to sustain growth," Almunia said.

However, the Commissioner made clear that boosting the market does not mean a reduction in competitive vigilance.

Various antitrust cases are currently being investigated by the European Commission, and pan-European content licensing is still very much on the agenda.

"It is clear to me that competition policy must be a key part of ensuring market access and opportunities to all efficient players capable of delivering new value," he said.

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