This month the European Commission formally closed the ‘Licenses for Europe’ stakeholder dialogue on copyright. In four working groups, the aim of the stakeholder dialogue was to examine how more content can be made available in the digital single market. But as the name suggests, ‘Licensing for Europe’ was truly about licensing solutions only – a detail that has from an early stage heavily strained the initiative and made the whole exercise close to worthless.

Our association was an observer in the working group on text and data mining. As it turned out, this working group turned out to be the most controversial one. From the very beginning a broad community made up of researchers, libraries, consumers, and SMEs active in the technology sector voiced their strong opposition to the terms of reference and the Commission’s intention to debate Europe’s scientific, social and technological progress through the mantra of licensing only. Not surprisingly, this community dropped out of the dialogue after only two sessions. Other working groups witnessed similar developments.

Given these circumstances, the outcome of the stakeholder dialogue cannot be even termed ‘outcome’ – and in fact, it isn’t. The closing plenary meeting consisted of presentations on the ten ‘pledges’ to bring more content online. These pledges read more like very general and lukewarm statements, most of which no one can really object to (e.g. ‘easier access to print and images’ or ‘improved availability of e-books across borders and across devices’). Importantly, these pledges were made and signed up to by various rightsholder stakeholders only.

If this is the result of year-long deliberations aimed to have the views of every stakeholder reflected in the ‘outcome’, it’s simply a failure. Interestingly, the Commission announced that its work on the second track of this process, internal preparations and analyses for an all-encompassing copyright review, will continue. In fact, stakeholders in Brussels and beyond are expecting a public consultation on the Copyright Directive to be opened soon – if not delayed by Commission-internal differences. It is more than unfortunate that the ‘outcome’ of a faulty stakeholder dialogue will impact further deliberations on the future of copyright.

However, what will remain uncertain for the time being is whether the next Commission, to be in place towards in the end of 2014, will ultimately decide to start a proper review process. The stakeholder dialogue and the a public consultation on copyright will add pressure. There is one lesson to be learned from ‘Licences for Europe’: copyright is far more than just licensing solutions. Any future debate must be more inclusive and address alternatives to licensing as well as existing problems within licensing – a point a lot of stakeholders tried to make from the very beginning.

No one is questioning the legitimacy and necessity of licensing as such. However, Commission officials and policymakers will have to decide who much breathing space they want to leave for citizens to unleash innovation, scientific progress and economic growth without having to ask for permission. Nothing less than Europe’s international competitiveness is at stake.

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