The Closing of the Net  "original and valuable"  Times Higher Education

The European Commission is holding secret talks on an anti-file-sharing industry agreement.

Telcos and rights-holders had a dust-up over ‘co-operation'. Rights-holders have shunted new business models off the table. The Commission  was ready to handbag anyone who gossiped outside.


And why - oh why? - is the Commission running scared of a French blog, which might or might not be La Quadrature du Net - the Commission does not seem to be sure?


More information is emerging  about the secret talks which are taking place  at the European Commission  on Europe-wide ‘voluntary' co-operation between rights-holders and ISPs. It's 3-strikes by any other name. The Commission is trying to negotiate a UK-style  Memorandum of Understanding  which would apply right across Europe. The plan is to get it  signed by the trade associations like  ETNO and the IFPI.


The talks are taking place in DG Markt, with a selected list of invitees only. Google and Yahoo joined in at the end of last year.  The

 consumers' group BEUC has been invited but refused the terms of attendance, hence  it is an industry talking-shop only and there is no citizen representation at all.


The talks  were held on 10 September, 14 October, and 29 November, chaired by Margot Froehlinger. She is the top civil servant responsible for copyright and IPR enforcement at DG Markt.


It is emerging that the talks cover a Memorandum of Understanding for ‘co-operation'. The telcos in the group appear to have agreed to discuss ‘co-operation' about so-called educational programmes - presumably to remind p2p file-sharers that they are infringing copyright, etc.


But they drew the line when the rights-holders tried to shift the goal-posts  to 3-strikes and  there appears to have been some kind of dust-up* between the lobbyists from the two industries.  In retaliation, the telcos demanded  that   ‘new business models' were included in the scope of the talks


But their demand was  met with a firm but cold hand from Mrs Froehlinger,  who took the rights-holders side. New business models  were off-limits, apparently.


Mrs Froehlinger also threatened to expell from the group anyone who spoke about the talks to outsiders. This could explain why one attendee whom I spoke to was visibly scared.  It seems that Mrs Froehlinger  was upset with  a French blog, which published leaked information from the talks, but it's rather entertaining because they apparently spent some time trying to establish who the  French blog was. Someone suggested it could be La Quadrature du Net (which is an advocacy organisation and not a blog)  but no-one was  sure.


The other half of the agenda for the talks is the review of the IPR Enforcement directive (IPRED). The participants of the Stakeholder's Dialogue on Online Copyright Infringements have been offered exclusive access to the European Commission  and it seems they will get priority involvement in DG Markt's  internal decision-making processes.


I am not quite sure how this squares up to the requirement for transparency in public policy-making. Perhaps the European Parliament could ask a few questions about this.


My serious point here is  that there is enormous public interest in this policy area, and indeed, enormous public opposition to what they  are trying to do.  Mrs Froehlinger's approach   of handbagging** the dissenters  is hardly conducive to a productive discussion.


These talks should be conducted in the open, and citizens groups should have the right to attend and to tell the outside world what is really going on. The way it is, the Commission's approach  lacks any form of democratic legitimacy, and fails to recognise the implications for freedom of expression which are entailed in the policies under discussion.


Moreover, it is time the Internet industry learned to stand up against this kind of thing, instead of always being such willing and pathetic  collaborators.



*Dust-up is  London slang, and means a fight. It is in the Oxford English dictionary.

**To handbag' as a verb is also in the OED and it means to treat insensitively. Margaret Thatcher was famous for handbagging her male Cabinet Ministers.



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This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial-Share Alike 2.5 UK:England and Wales License. It may be used for non-commercial purposes only, and the author's name should be attributed. The correct attribution for this article is: Monica Horten (2011) ,  ISPs & rights-holders in dust-up over Europe-wide MoU, 24 January 2011  . 







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