Theme Paper

Empowering the user | Table of Contents | Creating a favourable environment for electronic commerce


Content, in all its forms, is the vital raw material of the information society. Content includes data, text, sound, images or multimedia combinations of any of these.

All of these types of content can be distributed on the Global Information Networks. The content industry is diversifying into electronic publishing, and interactive multimedia information services are rapidly emerging. Such content can also be produced by individuals, government bodies or non-profit organisations for whom the Global Information Networks represent a new means of communicating to a wider audience at low marginal cost.

Every user is therefore not only a consumer of content but also a potential content provider, particularly in the context of small and medium-sized enterprises, voluntary associations, or in education where part of the function of content provision is particularly likely to be carried out in many cases by ordinary users rather than specialists.

Cultural bodies, such as art galleries and museums, have an important role to play in making existing content available and in helping to encourage new creation and governments can assist in creating a favourable environment for such activities.

5.1. Intellectual Property Rights

5.1.1. Identified Issues

Copyright and related rights play a key role in encouraging the availability of a critical mass of content on the Global Information Networks, as most of the new products and services will be based on, or carry material protected by IPR (such as literary, musical or audio-visual works, phonograms or fixed performances). In many situations, intellectual property content may even account for the major portion of the value of an electronic service - in the field of entertainment as well as in other areas, such as business and education. As digitisation, together with the convergence of communication and computer technologies, is already proving to have a significant effect on the way works and other protected matter are created, published, disseminated and copied, the existing regimes on intellectual property protection need to be adapted accordingly. The exploitation of protected material over the networks will, by its very nature, increasingly be transnational, thus comparable terms of protection across national borders must be attained.

Efforts to adapt copyright and neighbouring rights to the new technological challenges are not only well advanced but significant success has already been achieved.

At the EU level, the European Commission carried out an extensive consultation of all interested parties, on the basis of a Green Paperon "Copyright and Related Rights in the Information Society". The consultation confirmed the need for further harmonisation of certain copyright and related rights aspects, including clarification of the scope of certain rights (such as the reproduction right and the communication to the public right) to ensure a level playing field, placing particular emphasis on the need to follow the rationale and the pragmatic structure of the harmonisation already in place.

Based on the results of this exercise, the Commission in November 1996 adopted a Communication, which outlines its policy on copyright in the Information Society and announces legislative measures, with a view to achieving a Single Market framework which stimulates the creation and exploitation of works and the marketing of new services in a climate of legal certainty. The Communication identifies the following priorities for legislative action: a further harmonisation of the reproduction right, the communication to the public right, and the distribution right. This will include a harmonisation of the scope and the legitimate exceptions to these rights. These measures will be flanked by a harmonised protection of anti-copying devices and the like as well as copyright management systems, which are presently being developed by the private sector. This initiative will maintain the traditionally high level of copyright protection in Europe, while safeguarding a fair balance of the different rights and interests involved. In view of their importance for the creation and exploitation of protected content over the networks, the presentation of these measures by the Commission is envisaged this summer.

Any action would be incomplete without ensuring, in parallel, appropriate intellectual property protection at a wider level than the EU. Legal safeguards are needed, not only within the whole of Europe, but world-wide to foster investment in electronic commerce and to give content providers an incentive to make intellectual property protected material available on-line. The successful outcome of theWIPO Diplomatic Conference of December 1996 is a crucial step forward in this context. The two international treaties, namely theWIPO Copyright Treaty and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty, significantly update the international protection for intellectual property and contain provisions which will form the basis for an international level playing field with respect to intellectual property in the digital era. The Community shall aim for their early entry into force. Moreover, a successful outcome to the current WIPO negotiations on the legal protection of databases requiring substantial investment and on the rights of performers on the audio-visual fixations of their performances, will constitute a further milestone in the attainment of a level playing field in this area. The work on these issues will continue in the framework of WIPO, during the second half of 1997.

5.1.2. Question

What steps can be taken to further promote creation and exploitation of protected content in on-line services?

5.1.3. Possible Solutions

Work towards an early adoption of the EU legislative initiatives on the harmonisation of certain aspects of copyright and related rights in the Information Society;

Work towards a rapid ratification by the Community, its Member States and other European countries, and entry into force of the two WIPO Treaties adopted in December 1996;

Work towards global consensus, through active involvement in current international negotiations, notably in the framework of WIPO, on the issues under negotiation (such as protection of audiovisual performances, and sui generis protection of databases requiring substantial investment)

5.2. Access to and exploitation of public sector information

5.2.1. Identified Issues

The public sector is the biggest single collector and producer of information content in all areas of public life, including government, administration, law, business and professional activities, employment, health, social welfare, scientific research, transport, education and culture.

Such information is important for:

Both the public and the private sectors have key roles in ensuring improved access to public sector information. With the help of information and communication technologies, the public sector may improve its information management practices as regards public sector information collection and dissemination.

Some types of information should be made available directly to the citizen by the public sector. The EU has shown the way in adopting its own Code of Practice. For many categories of information, such information can be made available more conveniently to a large potential audience through increased use of Global networks.

Where information is charged for, consideration must be given to the needs of the less well-off, for instance by use of public libraries. Appropriate use should be also made of the skills of the private sector in distributing, since this will often prove to be a cost-effective way of ensuring a public service.

Recent developments have shown that the information content market is one of the most promising areas for growth and employment in the coming years. A large number of successful initiatives have already emerged in the fields of business, cultural, geographical, legal and statistical information. These are mostly at national level, however, which in many cases does not provide the market basis for the necessary economies of scale.

There are differences among European States with regard to access to public sector information, laws and policies, as well as among their practices of public sector information commercialisation. These constitute impediments to access to information by European citizens and businesses and to the information industry's possibilities of creating pan-European information products and services. Common approaches are required if the European information industry is to benefit from the size of the single market and undertake the economies of scale that are necessary in the global market.

This common approach could address the following areas: the right of access to public sector information, its scope, limitations and exceptions, commercialisation rules including pricing policies, government copyright and fair competition practices, as well as the respect of the fundamental right to privacy that will strike an appropriate balance among a number of legitimate interests (citizens, public sector, private sector), by ensuring affordable access to high quality public sector information for both citizens and businesses and optimal exploitation of public sector information by the private sector for the creation of value-added multimedia products and services.

Global Information Networks offer enormous potential for enhancing the democratic process through increased information and expression of views, both by those holding public office, politicians and officials, and by ordinary citizens. The scope of the Global Information Networks not only enables any issues to be discussed globally, across a continent, a country or on the scale of the local community, but greatly facilitates the identification of, and comparisons among, all available texts dealing with a particular topic.

5.2.2. Questions

5.2.3. Possible Solutions

5.3. Facilitating trading in multimedia content

5.3.1. Identified Issues

It is increasingly recognised that trading multimedia content not only requires an adapted regulatory framework which should ensure a high level of protection to rightholders allowing creation of works and promotion of new services in a climate of legal security, but also a well functioning organisational and operational framework for exploiting and clearing multimedia rights over global networks.

Historically, the management of intellectual property rights is organised by sector (text, sound, image, video, etc.) and by country. With the dawning of the multimedia age, currently adequate means of administering rights must be re-assessed, as the time and effort that may have to be spent on identifying and acquiring the different rights increases significantly with the number of different bits of content involved and the number of countries where rightholders are located. SMEs and new media start-ups may have the most problems in the existing situation, in particular as they may often wish to re-use existing material. The development of pan-European multimedia content often requires input from rightholders in various countries. Effective and efficient mechanisms for trading rights in multimedia content are therefore essential for the development of the European multimedia content industry.

The commercial exploitation and clearance of multimedia products will be increasingly supported by electronic systems. These systems will provide a trusted and secure multimedia exploitation environment, enabling access to information and supporting interoperability (between various sorts of information, between applications, across borders and across technical platforms). Technical identification systems such as those standardised internationally (ISO) combined with an effective and efficient multimedia rights clearance environment provide support for reuse of existing components. Consensus among concerned parties on the legal, business, technical and standards issues associated with these systems will be a key requirement for their speedy and large-scale adoption.

5.3.2. Questions

5.3.3. Possible Solutions

5.4. Cultural and linguistic diversity

5.4.1. Identified Issues

Promoting diversity of content, including cultural and linguistic diversity, was recognised as one of the eight Core Principles of the G-7 Ministerial Conference on the Information Society.

Global networks provide vastly increased opportunities to the foster the values and to exploit the strengths of the cultural and linguistic diversity of Europe through contacts and exchanges between various cultures for mutual enrichment and economic opportunities.

Global communication and information networks, often felt as a threat to linguistic and cultural diversity, will in fact prove to be a formidable tool in safeguarding and enhancing diversity.

Equal opportunity of access for all at reasonable economic cost to Global Information Networks, a key principle for the development of such networks, should also mean access to information and services in one's own language.

Global Information Networks, in benefiting from the advances of digital technology, provide easy access, abundant supply of content distributed world-wide, unimpeded circulation of information and high speed processing. The same technologies offer opportunities in terms of content creation and access in many languages. Global Information networks will therefore provide ways to preserve and promote linguistic diversity by allowing speakers and content providers in any given language to link and exchange information, practising their language skills independent of their location and providing easy access to tools to translate on demand. .

Another dimension of Global Information Networks is the versatility in the production of content, which is an effective response to the growing variety of the demand. Network communication enables sections of the public with specific demands of any kind (such as academic, research, specialisation, etc.) to link and form together a viable market for such specialised cultural content.

Global Information Networks allow the production of a wealth of content, in response to the growing variety of demand, enabling people with specific demands or creative skills of any kind to link and form together a viable market for specialised cultural skills. The time has come for entrepreneurs, creators and companies and institutions with ambitions in the cultural sector to seize the opportunity, and gain experience in developing high quality products which are viable in the competitive content market.

Suppliers and users alike must now create and use content which makes full use their various linguistic environments on their networks, because a condition of the survival of their languages in the information age is their continuous and expanded use.

The experience of Europe in dealing with a multicultural and multilingual market constitutes specific European know-how. In the global context, this know-how can be exploited for "localisation of content" i.e. adaptation of presentation and content to local preferences and languages. Exploiting this know-how will allow the rich cultural diversity of Europe to be present in the global content market and may give rise to a striving new business sector with high intellectual value and employment potential.

Work must continue on practical aspects of ensuring that information in all languages can be published on the Global Networks and that the appropriate character sets are available.

5.4.2 Questions:

5.4.3. Possible Solutions

Empowering the user | Table of Contents | Creating a favourable environment for electronic commerce

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