EU's Kroes says Europe's copyright laws are outdated

The laws hold back access to legal content and life-saving research, the digital agenda commissioner said

Copyright laws are holding back potentially life-saving research, the European Union's top digital lawmaker said on Monday.

Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes was speaking at the 2012 Intellectual Property and Innovation Summit in Brussels. She also said that the E.U. copyright laws are out of date and have failed to keep up with the rapid pace of changing technology.

The E.U.'s Copyright Directive was adopted in 2001, but is based on recommendations dating back to to 1998 -- long before Facebook and YouTube, as the Commissioner pointed out.

Kroes said she is concerned about how copyright laws could be holding back clinical research. Researchers could be making huge breakthroughs by manipulating existing data. "Data and text-mining techniques now lie behind a huge field of research," said Kroes. But research is not explicitly exempted from current copyright rules across the E.U. and Kroes wants to see the researchers "freed them from their current legal tangle."

She also expressed concern that copyright was hampering culture, as online licensing restrictions can make it impossible to buy music legally across an E.U. border.

This view was echoed by Paul Klimpel, former managing director of Deutsche Kinemathek. "Copyright is the highest barrier to the future of our cultural heritage." He added that the term of copyright protection is often longer than economic recovery possibilities, which doesn't make sense and leads to abandoned and worthless works.

Taking up the issue of the length of copyright terms, Bernt Hugenholz, professor of intellectual property at the Institute for Information Law in the University of Amsterdam, asked the commissioner if it is time to put copyright term reduction on the agenda.

Kroes said that she was tempted, but ultimately side-stepped the question.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @BrusselsGeek or email tips and comments to jennifer_baker@idg.com.

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