EC Threatens Action Against U.S. Over Copyright Laws

US and European flags

The European Commission has threatened to stop cooperating with the U.S. in the fight against piracy if the U.S doesn’t make its copyright laws fairer to European artists. The commission, in a report titled United States Barriers to Trade and Investment 2008 (pdf, via Intellectual Property Watch), warns that the EU is prepared to “suspend trade benefits granted to the U.S.” if its domestic Copyright Act is not updated to fit World Trade Organisation rules.
Email and phone messages left with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office on Tuesday seeking comment weren’t returned.

Currently, EU artists and content owners receive money for performances and broadcasts of copyrighted songs at large-scale events and performances — but section 110(5) of the U.S. Copyright Act specifically exempts American small businesses from having to pay royalties. The rules say that long as it’s without “direct or indirect commercial advantage” and there’s no payment to performers, promoters or organisers, then with some exceptions businesses can play as many tunes as they want.

So, for example, while collecting societies like the UK’s PRS collect payments on behalf of U.S. content owners for songs played in UK cafes, bars and barbers, European artists and companies don’t get compensated for the equivalent in the U.S. “To the contrary, the EU does grant rights to both producers and performers since 1992… Consequently, U.S. rights holders are protected in a large number of EU Member States,” the document says.

The EC is threatening, if the U.S. doesn’t change its rules, to levy a fee on the U.S. rights holders who apply to EU customs authorities for help blocking pirated goods. A 2001 arbitration panel found that because of U.S. laws, EU content owners were collectively missing out on $1.2 million a year. After that, the U.S. agreed not to change its rules but to give “financial assistance to EU performing societies.” But that agreement expired in 2004.

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