Music Copyright in the Digital Age

       A legal, economic, and cultural analysis of music piracy and its implications

Differences in EU Copyright Implementation

Although the main goal of the EU Copyright Directive was to harmonize laws across Europe, this has not yet come to pass. Some critics of the Directive do not believe that this harmony will ever be achieved. Bernt Hugenholtz, of the University of Amsterdam Law Faculty, even calls the Directive "unimportant, and possibly invalid".[1] The courts of individual EU countries have taken very different approaches in interpreting laws, leading to different customs across Europe.

The lack of consistency in copyright laws across Europe exhibits the inefficiencies of copyright regimes that span across international borders. Even within the EU, which strives to act as one body, consistent rulings on copyright have yet to be reached in the courts. Particularly with the advent of the digital revolution, which has connected distant countries in ways unaffected by legislation, copyright is not an effective way to manage authors' rights in an international world.


Spain, for instance, has a very different idea of the definition of illegal downloading than most of Europe and the United States. In October 2006, federal Penal Court No. 3 of Santander ruled that under Spanish law, downloading music for personal use, without intention of profit, is legal. The judge argued that sentencing the defendant "would imply the criminalization of socially accepted and widely practiced behaviour in which the aim is in no way to make money illicitly, but rather to obtain copies for private use".[2] This ruling is wildly different from the U.S. laws, and yet the logic used by the Spanish judge might appeal to the current generation of online teenagers in America and Europe, who commonly download music from peer-to-peer networks.


Scandinavian countries, on the other hand, have taken a strong position against peer-to-peer networks. In October 2006 alone, Finnish courts fined 22 people over 420,000 Euro. Sweden has a similarly tough enforcement of copyright law. The Växjö University of Sweden has banned over 100 students from the university network in the last two years for downloading copyrighted works.[2]


France may have the strongest penalties for illegal downloaders. Under its Olivennes Agreement, Internet users are given three strikes for infringing activities before having their Internet service provider (ISP) accounts terminated.[3] In theory, the infringer could just seek another service provider, but there are only so many providers available. One major difference in the French Olivennes Agreement from the U.S. system is that the Olivennes Agreement does nothing against uploaders of copyrighted material, but only targets downloaders.

United Kingdom

Most of the European Union impose a levy on blank audio cassette tapes, CDs, and CD burners for the purpose of recouping costs of copyright infringing activities on such devices. The first such levy was introduced in Germany in 1965, and the idea was later picked up by most European countries.[4] Now 22 of the 27 EU member states impose copying levies. The UK does not impose such a levy. In the UK, it is still illegal to move music from a CD onto an MP3 player.[5]

The lack of a copying levy is not the only large difference in UK copyright law. According to the UK law, sound recordings and broadcasts are only covered by copyright for 50 years from the date created.[6] This is even true of recordings from other countries, which are covered for 50 years from the date released in the UK. After this period, the recording falls into the public domain.


  1. Hugenholtz, Bernt. "Why the Copyright Directive is Unimportant, and Possibly Invalid." EIPR 11. (2000): p. 501-2.
  2. "Fileshares Get Different Treatment in Europe's Courts." EDRI-Gram 08 Nov. 2006.
  3. Rosenblatt, Bill. "New French Law Threatens ISP Access for Illegal Downloaders." DRM Watch 28 Nov. 2007.
  4. Hugenholtz, Bernt. "The Future of Levies in a Digital Environment." Institute for Information Law. (2003). PDF
  5. Ashton, Robert. "UK industry promotes private copying model." Music Week 07 June 2008. Lexis-Nexis.
  6. "Fact sheet P-01: UK Copyright Law." UK Copyright Service. The UK Copyright Service, 27 Nov. 2009.