Single market and digital single market are one and the same

The EU's digital single market still suffers from the same accessibility barriers it did a decade ago, writes Catherine Stihler.

By Catherine Stihler

05 May 2015

Despite the fact that the EU's last copyright reform took place back in 2001 some of our legislation has yet to truly join the 21st century. Later this week, however, the European commission is due to publish the first draft of its digital single market strategy, and in the autumn European digital economy and society commissioner Günther Oettinger is expected to present a proposal on copyright reform. 

Meanwhile, the European parliament is taking its own steps to outline its position on the digital single market and will assess obstacles to its completion. I have reiterated time and again that the digital single market and single market are one and the same - one cannot be complete without the other.

While the US and China benefit from a single set of laws applied within their territories, the EU has 28 sets of national legislation to contend with. Differences between national legal provisions and requirements across member states, taxation systems, consumption habits, as well as linguistic barriers, all hamper European competitiveness. 


Although 43 per cent of adults in the EU shop using the internet, online sales across borders in Europe account for just a tenth of total online sales in this region. If Europe is to remain competitive, the fragmentation of the (digital) single market must be addressed.

Looking at the new strategy ahead of its publication, there are several opinions within parliament that have been adopted, or are in the process of adoption. I had the pleasure of being parliament's internal market and consumer protection committee opinion rapporteur on the 2001 infosoc directive.

The final committee vote took place on 24 March and the report was adopted with an overwhelming majority. During the process of tabling the report, I met dozens of stakeholders from a variety of industries and organisations, ranging from authors and publishers to consumer groups and academic researchers.

Striking the right balance on a compromise position that suits everyone will be no easy feat for the commission. However, one thing that has become clear to me is that action to address certain concerns raised since the adoption of the infosoc directive back in 2001, especially relating to the digital realm, must be taken. 

Things have changed rapidly since its adoption over a decade ago and copyright laws have to be updated in order to reflect the needs of our society and consumers, most of who use digital services, watch films and stream music online on an almost daily basis.

I also emphasised the important role that Europe's cultural and creative industries play employing more than seven million people while also promoting European cultural heritage. Any copyright reform needs to ensure that all categories of rights holders are protected and that they are fairly remunerated.

However, problems such as territoriality, geoblocking, portability of services and interoperability must be contended with and solutions found if we are to ensure that modern copyright legislation is fit for purpose. 

For this reason, I urge the commission to push for a flexible and balanced framework with certain exceptions and limitations that will not harm rights holders and conforms to consumer expectations. I believe consensus can be achieved, but it's vital to maintain an ongoing dialogue between all the parties involved.


Read the most recent articles written by Catherine Stihler - Citizens and research: The forgotten voices of copyright reform