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World Book and Copyright Day – Why copyright laws in Europe need revising

This post was written by Emily Sorensen, Wikimedia UK volunteer, writing in her personal capacity.

We live in a unified Europe (i.e. EU) that is part of a global economy. We do business with organisations, companies, and people from all over the world. We use Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and many other social media which connect people from all over the world. We don’t need obstacles that get in the way of these developments. We need rules that complement our needs and make interactions and transactions run as smoothly and fairly as possible to reduce the likelihood of complicating the technological and scientific developments that are already complex as it is. Times change and so do our needs. So what has this got to do with copyright laws?

Firstly, many people ignore the legality of their online behaviour because we are used to being served what we want at the point of a simple Google or Bing search. Downloads are a useful example.. It’s copyright infringement to download many films, songs, books, and so on for free, but that’s not stopping many (usually) lawful citizens from doing it anyway. Why? Because the availability of information online has increased expectations for what we can have for free. This is not a trend that can likely be reversed, or should be reversed. It’s a change of mindset that seems to be here to stay, and the proof of this is the way companies have changed their business models over the last 15 or so years. Many entrepreneurs and start-ups, for example, market themselves initially providing free services and products in order to generate sales leads. Even well-known companies such as Spotify lure potential customers into paying monthly fees by giving them a free subscription month initially. It works, because those companies have found ways to make it work, taking into consideration the tendencies and needs people reflect online.

What hasn’t changed in line with developments brought about by the internet, however, is the copyright legislation in the EU. For example, some EU countries have taken a more liberal approach to rightsholdership of photos taken in public. In the UK and Germany, there is freedom of panorama, meaning that any photos taken in public spaces can be freely used and shared as desired. In France, Italy, and Iceland, however, there is no freedom of panorama, meaning you can’t use photographs taken in public spaces for anything other than private displays (not Facebook, mind you).

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About Wikimedia UK

The Wikimedia projects are special: they are written and curated by thousands of volunteers. They are also supported by voluntary donations, through Wikimedia UK, the Wikimedia Foundation and other international chapters.

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