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Protecting intellectual property in the digital age: challenges and opportunities for families

On the 25th and 26th of September, COFACE-Families Europe, represented by Martin Schmalzried, participated in the plenary meeting of the EUIPO (Intellectual Property Observatory).

A wide variety of topics were discussed including recent EUIPO activities, published reports and priorities for the future. External speakers, including various representatives of the EU Commission DGs, presented how their work feeds into the EUIPO priorities. The Finnish Presidency also stressed that protecting IP rights was a key objective in order to make Europe the most competitive region in the world. Some of the major issues discussed were health and safety (counterfeited goods of lower quality, more dangerous, less sustainable…) and e-commerce from businesses to consumers which pose significant challenges for customs agents since they are individual small packages and cannot be checked easily.

COFACE-Families Europe represented civil society on a panel dedicated to emerging threats and opportunities in piracy and counterfeits. While the topic of IP rights is not a core priority for COFACE-Families Europe, there are many entry points which link IP rights with COFACE-Families Europe’s activities. One important aspect is the health and safety dimension, especially for toys and child safety. Counterfeited toys can represent a clear health and safety hazard for children and COFACE-Families Europe takes this issue very seriously. Another aspect is child protection online: most websites or platforms which offer illegal content (movies, music…) also contain potentially harmful content for children such as pornography, and children can also more easily fall pray to scams, viruses, malware etc.

COFACE-Families Europe further underlined the emergence of decentralised technologies (mostly blockchain and the decentralized web) which could render impossible the removal or censorship of any type of content online. Decentralized e-commerce, enabled by peer-to-peer applications such as OpenBazaar also increase the threat of children being exposed to dangerous counterfeited goods. Finally, 3D printing could allow for the production of many items under copyright.

Many of these challenges also come with their opportunities. First and foremost, COFACE-Families Europe adopts a broader perspective on the issue of piracy and aims at putting prevention first, that is, contribute to creating an environment where consumers would naturally opt for paying for content or goods. In this regard, addressing poverty, social exclusion and inequalities is key. The last few decades many European countries have seen stagnant wages, and in a situation where families live paycheck to paycheck, it is impossible for them to devote financial resources to entertainment or other non-vital expenses. Therefore, securing decent wages for all and lifting people out of poverty will have a direct effect on the legal consumption of goods or content online.

Prevention also means proactively engaging in new and emerging business models and technologies while they are in their early stages of development to ensure that they develop in a way which is in line with IP rights. For instance, engaging in decentralized platforms powered by blockchain which feature music or other creative works can greatly help the development of such platforms in a healthy way. The use of smart contracts, for instance, can also greatly affect copyright, as these can automatically split profits of micro-payments between all parties (the artist, producer, distributer etc).

As regards decentralized technologies, ultimately, the ecosystem which will prevail will depend directly on the individual choices of consumers. Consumer awareness and education is key as the existence of a governance model which addresses the removal of harmful content depends on them. Blockchain technology allows for a form of direct democracy where a group of individuals are free to choose which governance model they opt for.
The exploration of new and fairer business models should also be a priority as consumers have shown their willingness to support artists or creators via alternative means such as crowdfunding and donation platforms (such as Patreon or Tipee). There is also a growing annoyance with business models driven by advertising and big data, perceived as violating consumer rights, manipulating consumers into taking certain decisions (be it in terms of purchasing decisions or even political) and remunerating content creators very poorly while generating massive revenues for a select group of quasi-monopolistic companies (GAFAM).

Thus it is a mix between prevention approaches which create an environment conducive to legal consumption of content and goods online and enforcement of existing regulation in a punitive way (find and stop those who sell counterfeits or share illegal content online) which might be the best way to protect intellectual property in the digital age.

For more information about the event or IP rights, please contact Martin Schmalzried: mschmalzried@coface-eu.org
Or visit the official website of the EUIPO : https://euipo.europa.eu/ohimportal/en

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