Library usage under threat

July 24, 1998

Lobbying from the film and music industries for tougher European copyright laws threatens to undermine access to digital technologies, according to EBLIDA, the umbrella organisation for Europe's public and university libraries.

The industries want a copyright directive from the European Commission, now being debated in Brussels, to be much tougher, rendering unlawful all private digital copying, whatever its purpose.

In response, EBLIDA has joined forces with bodies such as the European Consumers Association, European Association for Consumer Electronics and European Disability Forum to warn that commercial interests could end up denying users the kind of access to music, film, scientific and education materials and programmes they have enjoyed for years.

The International Federation of the Phonographic Industries (IFPI), which represents 1,300 record producers and distributors worldwide, fears mass copying of near-perfect master recordings from CDs and the Internet will kill retail sales. The body wants the directive to help stop this "digital piracy", particularly on the Net, through, for instance, stronger rules against hacking. It even wants "temporary copying" outlawed.

Barbara Schleihagen, EBLIDA spokeswoman, said the European Fair Practices in Copyright Campaign supported measures to fight commercial copyright piracy. But, she said: "Fair practices in terms of access to copyrighted works, which cause no damage to rights-holders, are not commercial piracy."

Fred Friend of the United Kingdom's university library body SCONUL said the copyright directive "will affect every person who walks into an academic or public library. The risk is that library users will have to pay to access information that is now free".

He said the government was supporting moves to change the directive. "One of the problems with the draft directive is that it bundles legitimate library use with the prevention of piracy of audiovisual works."

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