EU mulls more flexible online copyright law

BRUSSELS, Dec 5 (Reuters) - Internet users in Europe may be

allowed to copy parts of some copyrighted files legally under

reforms to outdated rules governing the murky world of online

piracy, EU officials said on Wednesday.

Entertainment and software companies, who say they are

losing billions of dollars of revenues to pirates, have been

lobbying the bloc to outlaw all unlicensed copying and sharing

of their digital films, music and applications.

But the bloc's executive, the European Commission, said it

was hoping to find a middle ground that would let legitimate

users copy parts of some files - while clamping down on serious

criminals.

"The Commission's objective is to ensure that copyright

stays fit for purpose in this new digital context," the EU

Commission said in a statement.

Officials said they were redrawing the EU's 2001 copyright

law, that was agreed when slow internet speeds made it difficult

to share large digital files online.

New legislation, which could emerge in 2014, could clarify

the fact that people could make "fair use" of some digital

media, they added.

"Fair use" is a concept already active in other areas of

copyright law, giving book reviewers, for example, the right to

include short passages or quotes from publications in their

articles.

Online "fair use" might let people use a snippet of someone

else's song in a parody posted on the video-sharing website

YouTube, said one Commission source.

"The question is can that snippet be 30 seconds or one

minute," the source added.

Software companies have argued against the use of fair use,

saying it is nearly impossible to copy just parts of their

programs.

The European Parliament rejected a global agreement on

copyright theft in July, handing a victory to thousands of

tech-savvy activists who had argued the terms of the

Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) were too harsh.

Young protesters rallied across Europe and signed petitions

saying the agreement - which aimed to give governments the power

to stop the sale of fake goods - would curb their freedom and

allow officials to spy on their online activities.

In a leaked document seen by Reuters, the Commission

admitted that ACTA's defeat in Europe signalled the need for

more flexible copyright laws.

Internet piracy has eroded music sales and software

companies say they are losing tens of billions of dollars in

revenue.

The Business Software Alliance, a U.S.-based lobby group,

said 42 percent of people taking part in a survey in 2011

admitted using pirated software.

(Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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