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Switzerland

Where There's No Such Thing As An Illegal Download

Call it the Internet's 'Neutral Territory' - Switzerland is one of the few places in the world where Internet users can take whatever they want from the Web, regardless of the source. But creators of content are fighting back.

Anti-ACTA protest in Zurich in February (floheinstein)
Anti-ACTA protest in Zurich in February (floheinstein)
Lukas Meyer-Marsilius

ZURICH – Swiss rapper Bligg was recently quoted in Tages Anzeiger admonishing kids that "it's very important not to download music illegally from the Internet, otherwise it's going to be increasingly difficult for many artists to earn a living from their music."

But the problem of finding an appropriate way to pay artists for downloads of their work on the Internet isn't just a music business conundrum. It's a major question wherever copyrights are concerned.

The subject is being fiercely debated in neighboring Germany, where the press has been dissecting it on an almost daily basis of late. People in Switzerland are also trying to come up with solutions, though compared to in Germany, the conversation here is not only less fraught, but also more low-profile – much to the relief of those working on mapping out solutions. Ideas being aired range from criminalizing downloading to entirely new models such as a "cultural flat rate" that could be charged to all Internet accounts.

The problem has faced the music industry the longest. Because many people download music from illegal sources and pay nothing for it, industry earnings have taken a hit. In Switzerland – unlike practically everywhere else – it is not against the law to download music, although making copyright-protected content available is punishable. That's why the term "illegal download" has no relevance in Switzerland, but "downloads from illegal sources' does.

Intellectual property owners say they're also taking a hit from platforms like Google and YouTube, which make a lot of money from content but pay little or nothing to providers. "We view Google/YouTube as clients who need a license to use music," says Martin Wüthrich of SUISA, the Cooperative Society of Music Authors and Publishers in Switzerland. Wüthrich sees the imbalance between Google profits and whatever copyright holders are earning as too vast.

The problem also concerns filmmakers and the authors of e-books, since films and books are also increasingly being downloaded and shared. Newspaper publishers have also started to notice a substantial decrease in control over their material. Representatives of all these sectors have joined together in an "Alliance Against Internet Piracy" that is urging the government to come up with a strategy that both fights and prevents the phenomenon.

Musicians band together

Swiss politicians have not been entirely absent from the discussion, although two years ago the Federal Council ultimately decided against revising Swiss laws on the issue . A number of Swiss pop musicians, including Bligg, DJ Bobo, Yello and Züri West, responded to the Council's reluctance by forming an interest group. Together they addressed an open letter to Bern.

The letter itself was moderate, but an official statement that appeared later on the website musikschaffende.ch took a distinctly sharper tone, calling Switzerland "the copyright Guantánamo of Europe." Downloading should be declared illegal, the statement says, and guidelines created for a functioning market. A further demand is that Google be made to pay for music it makes available.

IFPI Schweiz, the umbrella organization of music labels in Switzerland, is asking the government to take another look at copyright laws. "Unlike the way it was when the laws were revised last time, today every kid in the country knows whether a download comes from a legal or an illegal source," says the group's CEO, Lorenz Haas. "Individual users now have to be made more aware of their responsibilities."

Swiss copyright law was revised a few years ago after a long consultation period. According to SUISA's Wüthrich, the law has enough teeth to defend the interests of copyright holders on the Internet, but is limited because of problems in how it's applied. "It is unclear just how much liability providers have, so it's difficult to actually move against illegal providers," he says.

Green Member of Parliament Balthasar Glättli has been very active on the issue. He is against repressive measures, and says the role of politics should be to find acceptable compromises. "We have to find a balance among the players and their interests," he says. "On the one hand, creators need remuneration. On the other hand, implementing restrictive copyright laws could lead to intrusive monitoring of Internet use on the part of the government."

Glättli has officially suggested that the Federal Council consider other measures, such as the cultural flat rate concept, to compensate copyright holders. Within the music industry itself, however, the idea of a flat rate solution doesn't have a lot of takers. "A cultural flat rate would amount to putting music under complete state control, turn it into a branch of the economy," says IFPI's Haas.

What's ultimately needed, according to Haas, is a mentality shift. "We really have to figure out if this mindset of getting things for free is sustainable. In any case, it's a good thing the whole subject is finally on the table, after having been ignored for so long."

Read the original article in German

Photo - floheinstein

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