EU requesting input: Consumer confidence in digital environment

Ciaran O'Riordan ciaran at
Tue Apr 4 14:12:47 UTC 2006

Karsten Gerloff brought the attached letter to my attention.

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It's a request from a European Parliament committee for comments for a
report on "consumer confidence in the digital environment".

I haven't looked into this much, but the deadline for responses is April
14th, so I wanted to get this out asap.

Below is the initial exchange between myself and Karsten.  It's not
particularly coherent, but might be good for generating ideas.  Comments and
ideas sought.

> > Off the top of my head:
> > 
> > > <snip>
> > > 1. What are the main problem areas, which you are confronted with
> > > generally, or in your field, regarding Consumer Confidence in the
> > > Digital Environment?  
> > 
> > DRM and the fact that people do illegal things every day and therefore have
> > no understanding or respect for the law.
> Or rather: that copyright laws (in this case) are woefully inadequate to
> the digital environment. We need laws that are not geared towards
> the rightsholding industries' needs exclusively, but take into account
> that there are other ways in which ideas are used and developed: eg.
> commons-based peer production. 
> If unreformed or tightened, copyright laws will discredit themselves,
> instead of serving their purpose of encouraging creativity.
> > Also spyware, adware, and viruses
> > which users are helpless against because legal and technical means are used
> > to make software users helpless by denying them freedom.
> fully ack. 
> > 
> > > 2. What are the key challenges for the IT industry and its users, which
> > > can be foreseen for the near future generally or particularly in your
> > > field of competence (especially regarding the Consumer Confidence in the
> > > Digital Environment)?   
> > 
> > User enablement: allowing people to participate in the building and
> > direction of the digital parts of their environment.  (i.e. give people
> > software freedom)
> For software businesses, this will include re-orienting their business
> models from production to service. As Free Software spreads even further
> throughout all business environments, money will not be made from
> restrictive licensing policies, but from service contracts.
> Customisatoin of Free Software  will also increase in importance.
> > 
> > > 3. Could you present your opinion on legislative problems (Issues for
> > > which new legislation is needed or where, on the other hand,
> > > overregulation and some unnecessary rules should be abolished. Please
> > > address these questions concerning EU legislation or even those in which
> > > the national rules apply, and so only better coordination of the Member
> > > States can be supported)?
> > 
> > Software patents.
> Copyright is currently overregulated. Instead of a rumoured increase of
> the copyright protection term, the EU should follow the advice of
> economists and significantly shorten the copyright term. A target
> considered adequate by many would be a term of 14 years, renewable once.
> This would not do much harm to rights-holding businesses, while
> providing society with a much richer public domain, thus sustainably
> securing the EU's creative advantage throughout the 21st century.
> > 
> > > 4. Because the Internal Market cannot be isolated from the globalized
> > > market, do you see similar or different problems and challenges at
> > > international/global level?
> > 
> > Yes, but the EU is big enough not to be bullied by other countries.  That's
> > the whole point of a union.  So the EU can be a leader, and therefore help
> > to fix the global problems.
> > 
> > (The global problems are based on the fact that regions which are smaller
> > than the EU can be bullied, and so the problem spreads because no one will
> > stand up against the bullying.)
> The fact that users and consumers have long been left unconsidered by
> those developing the system of intellectual monopoly powers ensures that
> the problems are replicated globally. There are, however, remarkable
> differences in the effects that the unbalanced system has. While
> in developed countries, users and consumers are irritated and economic
> growth slowed, there are lives at stake in developing countries.
> > 
> > > 5. In regard to your previous answers, do you see possible legislative
> > > solutions?
> > 
> > The 21 swpat amendments.  Having legislation which effects 
> s/effects/affects
> > consumers handled
> > by DG Justice, competition, or culture.  Looking at legislation from the
> > point of view of citizens instead of the market (and therefore acknowledging
> > that the citizens can help themselves directly, and in teams/communities -
> > not just indirectly by participating in the market.)
> Besides pushing for a Treaty on Access to Knowledge and Technology on an
> international level, the EU could put itself at the vanguard of legal
> development in user's and consumer's rights. This would generally mean
> defining as positive rights what today are only exceptions in copyright
> and patent law; eg., a positive right to use copyrighted material for
> non-profit educational purposes. This can be achieved in full compliance
> with the TRIPS agreement.
> Yet a significant first step for those in the hole would be to stop
> digging. The EU should withdraw at least its support for the webcasting
> option in the proposed WIPO Broadcast Treaty. Better would be stopping
> EU support for said treaty altogether.
> > 
> > > 6. Moreover, could you please share any other ideas which have been
> > > raised in your mind on Consumer Confidence in the Digital Environment?
> > 
> > Software freedom is key.  When software users have their hands tied, they
> > will always be exploited.
> Providing users and consumers with adequate knowledge and a sound legal
> basis is key for them to build confidence in the digital environment.
> Only a competent person can appreciate the full scope of possibilities
> provided by digital networks, and only if there is legal certainty. 
> Software freedom is a conditio sine qua non to building competence with
> users and consumers. 

CiarĂ¡n O'Riordan ______________________ \ _____________ \  GPLv3 and other work supported by \   Fellowship:

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