A Single Market Strategy: Unified Online Content for the EU

Article ImageThe 27 European Union Member States don’t just have a variety of national languages; their markets and laws are equally diverse. As the internet and mobile communication devices become ever more popular, these countries face a new conundrum: how to protect creative online content and make it available to all EU citizens. Content developers and the online industry are unable to take full advantage of the potentially huge EU market and consumers are missing out on a wide range of online content. The stakes are certainly high: Revenues from online content are set to quadruple between 2005 and 2010, from c1.8 billion to c8.3 billion (roughly $11.60 billion).

To tackle this challenge, the European Commission started the new year by publishing its “Communication on Creative Content Online in the Single Market” report, which outlines a number of strategies that would simplify access to online music, games, and movies. The report is oriented around four main axes: availability of creative content, multiterritory licensing, interoperability and transparency of digital rights management, and legal offers and privacy. Building on previous developments within the i2010 strategy launched in Lisbon in 2005, this report focuses specifically on harmonizing online content circulation among the Member States by supporting the creation of innovative business models and cross-border content delivery services.

What the report makes eminently clear is that the lack of a unified market is hindering not just the circulation of online content, but every facet of the industry from business development to content creation. The European Union has what it takes to give the United States a run for its money in this sector, yet it isn’t living up to its potential. To naysayers, Mona Lund, press officer for Information Society & Media at the Commission, says, “Even though a single market for creative content online won’t come into existence overnight, the transfer of creative content services to the online environment brings challenges and opportunities. Europe should rise to the occasion, face these challenges, and seize these opportunities. If the Commission did not attempt to address these issues, it would not be doing its job.”

However, it is a daunting task to create a single EU market for online content. The Commission offers a few suggestions (note that the European Commission’s role is to suggest and recommend actions, not implement them). If a single market is to emerge, the stakeholders must find collaborative solutions. In an emerging market, this is easier said than done. In terms of availability of content, the EC recommends expanding its facilitator role to further encourage cross-industry agreements. The EC, as Lund explains, has already served as facilitator in online content issues. “The European Charter for the Development and the Take-up of Film Online was initiated in May 2005 by Commissioner Viviane Reding and agreed to by business leaders in May 2006. The Charter represents the joint accomplishment of representatives from the three key groups: the film and content industry, internet service providers, and telecom operators. The European Commission acted as an honest broker during the Film Online Talks[,] which led to the adoption of the Charter.”

The Commission’s report recognizes that the transparency and interoperability of digital rights management solutions has not yet been actualized. In order to move toward a solution that can be applied across the EU, the Commission proposed that a clear framework for DRM that solves the interoperability issues, as well as informs the consumer, be developed.

As for the Commission’s proposals for dealing with piracy and legal offers, it recognizes the need for further cooperation between access providers, content providers, and consumers. The EC sees education as one way to go about this, but it also understands why content owners are clamoring for legislative measures.

Ultimately, all this boils down to creating a “Content Online Platform” where discussions on content specific topics can take place among all the interested parties (industry, developers, rights holders, and consumers). As a result, a “Guide for consumers and users of Information Society Services” will be written. More importantly, the Commission will present another formal recommendation to the Parliament in mid-2008 based on this communication and public consultation. According to Lund, “during the 2006 ‘Consultation on Content Online,’ the Commission received over 175 written contributions.” Hopefully, this ambitious new communication will generate as much interest—and some solutions.