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EU Telecom Package: a repeat of copyright lobby strategy from the 90s

The conflict between the tech industry and the copyright lobby has been going on since the 1990s. The current controversy surrounding the EU Telecom Package is very similar to the fight that took place in 1999 when the EU Copyright Directive (2001/29/EC) was put to a vote in the EU Parliament.

At that time the copyright lobby (led by MEP Roberto Barzanti) almost succeeded in enacting an amendment (Article 5.1 ”on incidental copying”) that would have made ISPs legally responsible for cached copies of Internet traffic. These cached copies are stored for a thousandth of a second in the internet backbone routers during transport. Internet network operators would only be allowed to store cached content transported over the network if they had a pre-approval by the copyright holders.

Since all Internet traffic in transit jumps from one router to another in a random way, only traffic that is in some way guaranteed not to infringe copyright can be allowed. If an IP transfer crosses several national borders the traffic has to be legal in all intermediate steps.

This is copyright extremism at its finest: A “copyright crime” with a duration of a few microseconds which the network operator has no practical way of preventing without closing down the entire network.

The copyright lobby had mobilized enormous resources to influence the EU Parliament in 1999. The IT industry, Cisco, and the telcos were late to react and almost missed what was about to happen. Swedish Telia identified the threat early and played an active role in the counter campaign. Eventually one corporate lobby managed to stop another and the cached content amendment was rejected.

Now the conflict is repeating itself, both in the EU Telecom Package and in the way the copyright lobby is trying to expand the scope of the legal responsibility for copyright infringement. The copyright lobby’s strategy is to force telcos and web hotels to take full legal responsibility for traffic and content on their networks and servers.

The telcos have consistently resisted this and my prediction is that they won’t compromise a millimeter. They realize that if they begin to acknowledge legal responsibility for content, the floodgates will open for unlimited legal responsibility for everything that takes place on the Net.

This article has previously been published on my Swedish blog.

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