EU exec seeks balance between illegal downloading and sanctions
By Nathalie Vandystadt | Monday 24 August 2009
Young people between the ages of 16 and 24 are the biggest users of online services but also make up one third of users in Europe who refuse to pay for downloading music or videos, according to a European Commission report dated 4 August. The EU executive plans to tackle this tough equation during its next mandate.
‘Digital natives’ are now more than ever the Commission’s target. With its different activities on the web, «this generation, those who grew up with internet and did not have to learn it, is where Europe’s economic potential lies,» said a Commission spokesman.
Some 66% of the under-24 use the internet daily, far ahead of the average for all Europeans (45%). It is precisely the 16-24 age group that beats all the records: during the last three months, 73% have used social networks like Facebook or music and video downloading and sharing sites like YouTube, ie more than twice the European average (35%).
However, the EU has to take account of the reverse side of the coin. According to Eurostat, the EU’s statistical office, 60% of this age group has downloaded audiovisual content without paying for it and 33% say they are not willing to pay.
Their perception is that «many services and content are available for free,» notes the Commission, which says this figure is both «interesting» and «alarming». It therefore sees the need for «a legal framework that allows easier downloading and at the same time protects copyright».
As France, Sweden and the United Kingdom struggle to enforce online copyright, Information Society Commissioner Viviane Reding notes that «illegal downloading on internet seems to be becoming increasingly sexy». This growing phenomenon is «a vote of no confidence in existing models of activity and legal solutions». In a speech before the Lisbon Council think tank, on 9 July, she mentioned the «serious shortcomings of the current system» and deemed «regrettable» that the debate is «polarised» between those calling for free downloading and those in favour of enforcement.
«Those who break the law have to be punished. But are there really enough attractive lawful offers for consumers on the market,» Reding asks. «Have we looked into alternatives to punitive action? Have we really looked at the problem through the eyes of a 16-year-old?» A paradox brought to light by the Commission’s study is that, among the 16-24 age group, 10% have already paid for certain of these online services, ie twice the European average (5%).
The Commission has launched a public consultation that will run until 9 October on the challenges of the internet. One such challenge is access to the web, because, in contrast with young people, one third of Europeans have never used the internet.
The report is available at
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