German justice minister snuffs record industry, defends creators

German Federal Minister of Justice Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger has stated it is not the duty of the state to uphold business models of yesteryear, whacking record labels and film studios with a verbal baseball bat. During a speech given in Berlin last night, the liberal minister said modern-day laws should be designed to protect the rights of individual authors and creators.

In Germany, laws governing intangible goods have a legal tradition on upholding the rights of creators and not the way intermediary companies, i.e. record labels and publishing houses, conduct their businesses. “To what degree creators market their works over the internet and to what extent intermediaries become superfluous is not a question of law, it is a question of competition,” declared Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger.

She placed the continental legal tradition in its historical context, explaining how the first laws were designed to protect printers and authors after the advent of Gutenberg’s printing press, in order to uphold the rights of creators, setting the German laws apart from US copyright laws.

Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said she believed that laws in Germany must secure the rights of creators to determine what on earth to do with their works, just the way citizens in Germany have the right of informational self-determination. The legal concept of informational self-determination states citizens have the right to decide whether or not to disclose personal information to other parties, such as the state. An only exception would be public interest, however barriers are very high and such an exception could only be made during a state of emergency and by court order.

She added current forms of cost-free licensing, such as GNU or Creative Commons, were designed in regards to the individual author. Authors are to be named under Creative Commons licenses, adding an ideal dimension to the material side due to the recognition provided by making the creator identifiable.

The liberal minister also called for ISPs to be a bit more responsible in regards to broadband subscribers accessing pirated material and proposed pop-up signs warning users they were about to download pirated material.

However, whilst Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said there would be no throttling of bandwidth and Three-Strikes rules in Germany, she did not say things could keep going on the way they are. Unregulated use of works were unfair and leads to capitalising and exploiting the creations of others. She gave an example of an author plagiarisng texts from an unknown blog and using it in a book, or “powerful internet platforms making money from adverts, for which others originally created a market with their content”.

She also added the proceedings concerning ACTA needed to be open and transparent to the public in order to make sure Germany would not sign a treaty which would make Three-Strikes rules compulsory, which is why she called for the European Commission to publish the drafts.

Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said the internet had to stay free in the political and ideological sense, yet not in the sense of denying the rights of creators. One of the major areas which have to be harmonised on the European level are the collection societies, as the current system is too fragmented to function properly.

Germany seems to be heading down a genuinely liberal and free market road, and to a brighter outlook towards its digital economy.