It was last Monday in Cannes when Andrus Ansip, Vice President of the European Commission (EC) for Digital Single Market (DSM), was interviewed in the context of the music industry’s annual Midem event. Supporting the Commission’s view and strategy for a Digital Single Market in the EU Mr Ansip mainly focused on the part of eliminating piracy by re-evaluating copyright laws, in order for the European consumer to be able to enjoy digital content without restrictions in every EU member state.
However, the distance between theory and practice is substantial here. On the one hand, a huge investment is required but again would not be enough. The most important and crucial part is that it has to be voted by every single parliament of the 28 EU countries, something that seems highly unlikely.
Even if the EC makes it happen and changes the rules of geo-blocking by allowing people to get access to their paid digital content in every EU member state, the issue of downloading it for free will not go away that easily. The causes of the problem are deeper since they are originated in consumer behaviour and can be overcomed only by investing on proper education and consumer culture in Europe.
Structural reforms is a must
Digital Single Market is quickly approaching the EU with the Commission to highly support it and rank it as one of its top priorities. However, there are serious obstacles that lie ahead. There are countries in the EU that need to implement structural reforms which are fundamental in order for the single market strategy to work. This basically presupposes that governments need to vigorously adjust their markets and then proceed to the unification of ICT industries and consumers across the 28 EU countries.
Geo-blocking and Piracy
Geo-blocking was characterised by Vice-President Ansip as bad for business and mentioned that if this practice that restricts access to content based on the user’s geographical location is altered or even withdrawn in favor of the DSM, then piracy would be tackled effectively and people will stop “stealing” content.
Particularly, the Estonian politician stated: “Our people have to get the possibility to buy content like they do at home and our businesses must get the possibility to sell across the European Union like they do at home. Today, we don’t have a Digital Single Market in the European Union. We have 28 relatively small markets and for small European companies it’s practically impossible to understand those 28 different regulations.”
It is true that like this the European Commission promotes the single market but would not take us there and certainly would not drastically eliminate piracy. The reason why the majority of the European consumers use “alternative” methods to acquire digital content is not geo-blocking but simply their unwillingness to pay. Thus, citizens are more likely to download a movie for free (e.g. torrent) instead of paying for it since they are simply allowed to do so. And at this point, education can be the only way to face this long-lasting issue.
Education against piracy
Proper education is the cornerstone of a meaningful digital single market where people can understand why piracy is wrong for every society. Furthermore, they will be able to realise how beneficial the European digital single market can be for everyone. If the citizens are properly aware then the vote in the national parliaments will be heavily endorsed.
Therefore, the effective way to fight piracy and also promote the four basic freedoms in the EU (people, goods, services, capital) in the digital-online world is through providing proper education to every future generation. But it is likely that the EC does not want to intervene with the internal system of each country, in order to accomplish the latter, and that is why it tries with other means and measures to eliminate it.
Last but not least, it should be mentioned that the view of the EC to go after the companies which are responsible for making profit through authorised content, rather than chasing individuals who used those services, is a first step. However, it is not going all the way to stop piracy. People will simply find other paths to get the desired content for free, because it is part of their nasty habit and consumer behaviour. That is the reason why this solution can be seen as only temporary.
EC’s next meeting
The EC will convene on 25-26 June to discuss among others the Digital Single Market strategy of Europe. What is more, the Commission will provide extra guidance to the EU member states regarding structural reforms, employment policies and national budgets.
All in all, it seems that the EU is taking advanced steps to change the Digital world in Europe and provide more benefits to its people but at the same time its limits in power and lack of means could be enough to stall the entire positive project of the EU digital single market.
Let’s not go far; the same happened quite recently with roaming charges that the European consumer unfortunately still needs to pay. The Sting will follow the matter closely.