Germany pledges EU digital rights charter

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BRUSSELS -- The German government has pledged to produce a charter on digital rights when it takes over the six-month presidency of the European Union in January.

The charter would aim to ensure that consumers and creators benefit fully from technological development and that the media and IT does not impose excessive control over digital content.

The pledge comes after the German government raised concerns about licensing agreements that appear unfair and incomprehensible, music- and movie-playing devices that have restrictive transfer systems and digital content that is often interoperational.

German consumer protection minister Horst Seehofer acknowledged Friday at a meeting with European consumer lobby BEUC that it was time to concentrate efforts on the issue of consumers and the digital world. Seehofer said he will develop the planned Charter on Consumers Rights in the Digital World "as a matter of urgency."

The charter is expected to address a number of issues raised by new digital technologies, including restrictions seen as abusive of consumer rights. These include barriers that prevent European consumers from watching American DVDs on their European players, the measures preventing the transfer of legally acquired music from a computer to a MP3 player, and "broadcast flags" that prevent users from recording a TV program.

Germany also is organizing a digital rights conference in Berlin next March 15, which will gather ministers and executives to discuss the issue. It is expected to coincide with proposals on a broader consumer rights policy that the European Commission -- the EU's executive authority -- is due to publish next spring.

The German government has taken a more skeptical line toward new media technologies than other EU member states. Earlier this week, Berlin successfully ensured that new EU broadcasting rules would not force the German television market to accept product placement, even if the rest of Europe allowed it.
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