Earlier this month I wrote a couple of posts about a letter I sent off to the European Commission concerning my appalling experience with the IPRED consultation. Well, I now have a reply, which I reproduce below:
Dear Mr Moody,
Thank you for the letter of 3rd April 2013 in which you expressed your objections and concerns regarding the recent consultation on the efficiency of proceedings and accessibility of measures in the field of enforcement of intellectual property rights.
I am sorry to hear about the technical problems you had to face and the loss of your first drafts. I have not heard about other similar experiences for the time being, but I will transmit your feedback to the department which has developed and is maintaining this tool (Commission's Informatics Directorate, DIGIT).
We have also received a couple of complaints about the lack of response to requests for a link to the consultation. Following checks these proved not to be invalid claims but we nevertheless have given these complainants the possibility to send their contribution directly to our mailbox considering that they had tried to send their contribution within the deadline. Unfortunately, any contribution that was not inserted in the system within the deadline will not be taken into account in the statistics which are automatically produced. Nevertheless, these contributions will be carefully read and taken into account in the policy making process, even if they do not appear as such in the summary report which should be published in June.
Concerning your proposal to re-open the consultation, I am afraid this is neither justified nor feasible. The period for submitting responses in the course of the public consultation was 16 weeks (from 30.11.2012 till 30.03.2013) which is longer than our standard (that is a 12 weeks delay). The general public were informed of survey back in April 2012 at a public hearing on the issue that we streamed on the internet (http://ec.europa.eu/intemal_market/iprenforcement/docs/conference20120426/simmary_en.pdf). I would also like to recall that this consultation is a further step in the consultation process that started in December 2010 when the application report of the Directive on the enforcement of IPR (Directive 2004/48/CE) was published and was followed by a first round of consultations a summary of which can be found on our website (http://ec.europa.eu/internal_market/consultations/2011/intellectual_property_rights_en.htm).
As regards the content of the survey, I would first like to draw your attention to the fact that the public consultation concerned only the issue of civil enforcement of intellectual property rights, not the property rights themselves. As was clearly explained on the EU single market webpage (http://ec.europa.eu/internal_market/consultations/2012/intellectual-property-rights en.htm), the survey sought to gather "specific information on the efficiency of proceedings and accessibility of measures used in the context of civil enforcement of intellectual property rights. Therefore, all potential respondents were adequately informed and instructed as to the relevant and required scope of data to be provided in this final step of the consultation. Neither the information contained on our website, nor on the survey itself may be deemed as misleading in that context. The composite structure of the questionnaire was designed to assist respondents to provide more coherent and manageable responses whilst at the same time covering as comprehensively as possible the various detailed aspects of IP civil enforcement systems within the EU.
Furthermore, the consultation in question was open to all citizens and companies (whether plaintiffs or defendants) as well as organizations, including national governments and other public authorities, without any exclusions or exceptions. Consequently, it allowed for the views of all parties whether they support implementing stricter and more efficient measures in civil enforcement of intellectual property rights or opposed that view or again felt that the status quo is preferable or alternatively wanted to suggest specific amendments to IP civil enforcement questions. All questions were provided in an open form in order to guarantee a possibility to express all shades of opinion.
I hope that my response will have responded to your concerns and thank you again for
your contribution to this important public consultation.
And this is what I have sent in response:
Thank you for your reply.
You write that you "have not heard about other similar experiences for the time being": given the fact that I personally came across several such cases, even from a very small sample, suggesting that the issues were actually quite widespread, I suspect the reason for your own experience is that most people simply gave up.
That's part of the problem: when it is so hard to fill in a form, most people who are not paid lobbyists simply stop, because they have to get on with their lives. That's why I think it is vital that such forms should be made as easy a possible to complete: if not, the barriers thrown in the way of submitting a response introduce a subtle form of bias in favour of large organisations who can pay people to spend time grappling with such systems.
You also point out that "the public consultation concerned only the issue of civil enforcement of intellectual property rights, not the property rights themselves." I appreciate that fact, but again, there is a subtle form of bias being introduced here, I think, and that is the implicit assumption that "civil enforcement" only involves companies, who are therefore the ones to whom the questionnaire should address itself.
What that overlooks is the fact that copyright enforcement has changed drastically in the last decade. No longer is principally it about tackling organised crime, or people copying DVDs, say, and selling them. Most copyright enforcement is now against ordinary members of the public – thousands of them – who are often completely unaware that they are infringing, and certainly have no thoughts of commercial gain from their actions.
This is a key point that I was trying to emphasise in my original email. The structure of the form made it almost impossible even for someone like myself who spends far too much time responding to such consultations to reply as I wished. The questions were clearly geared toward larger players who were involved as plaintiffs, with little scope for defendants, and certainly not the new kind of lawyerless defendants being thrown up by the enforcement of copyright in the online sphere.
This is my principal concern: that the survey has missed out not only an entire facet of copyright enforcement, but actually the most important one because new and unexplored. Indeed, it is actually the area we most need information about. As it is, the results of the questionnaire will almost certainly reinforce the status quo and fail to address the pressing questions concerning the right way to address unauthorised sharing of copyright materials online. As far as I can tell from admittedly unsatisfactory and anecdotal evidence, that seems to involve roughly 200 million European citizens, given that practically all young people, and many who are older, engage in this.
Failing to make it easy or at times even possible for that group of people to express their views will sadly mean that the results of the questionnaire, however much it was conducted in the hope of garnering "all shades of opinion," will produce the usual predictably one-sided results. They, in their turn, are likely to drive future European policy-making in this area in exactly the wrong direction, resulting in an even greater alienation of young citizens from the European project at a time when we desperately need them to be more engaged, not less.
Thanking you again for your response,
I wonder if I'll get a reply this time?