Harmonisation of copyright law across the European Union remains a ‘long-term target’ the European Commission said today, unveiling proposed new rules on digital content and online shopping.

The measures are the first of 16 legislative proposals to be presented as part of the strategy to create a ‘digital single market’. 

The commission said the proposals on digital content and online sale of goods ‘will tackle the main obstacles to cross-border e-commerce in the EU: legal fragmentation in the area of consumer contract law and resulting high costs for businesses - especially SMEs - and low consumer trust when buying online from another country’.

On full harmonisation of copyright law across the EU, the proposal notes that creating a single code ‘would require substantial changes in the way our rules work today’ including creating a single copyright jurisdiction with its own tribunal. However ‘these complexities cannot be a reason to relinquish this vision as a long-term target’.

IP law experts said that harmonisation was a distant ambition. Mark Owen, partner at international firm Taylor Wessing and a member of the Law Society IP law committee, said:  'The commission has to leave open the possibility of full harmonisation... but in reality the likely timescale is so much longer than most political horizons or careers that I doubt there will be much real appetite to attempt it.'

Today’s measures aim to set ‘clear and specific rights’ for digital content, for example computer games. ‘Businesses will be able to supply digital content and sell goods online to consumers throughout the EU, based on the same set of contract rules,’ the commission said.

Věra Jourová (pictured), EU commissioner for justice, consumers and gender equality said: ‘Harmonising contractual rights throughout the EU will facilitate the supply of both digital content and goods across Europe. Consumers will benefit from simple and modernised rules; businesses from more legal certainty, cheaper and easier ways to expand their activities. This in turn will bring more choice at competitive prices to consumers.’

The Confederation of British Industry described the proposals as a mixed bag.

While it supported the right to enable consumers to access digital content they have bought in one country when they visit another, it called for ‘better safeguards, like clear residency and ownership tests, in place to protect the business models of our film and music makers and their ability to reinvest in new content’.