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Commission to revise rules on rivals' agreements

Uniform standards mean stronger competition, says EU body

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The European Commission will revise its rules on agreements between competitors to help companies to agree on technical standards, it has said. The move is designed to help encourage cross-border trade in digital goods and services.

Competition Commissioner Joaquín Almunia said that an EU digital single market could only emerge if strong competition existed.

"Open networks are of little use without competitive prices, and we will keep this under close review," he said. "Limiting the availability of interoperability information can be used as a technical means to stifle competition, and we will continue to carefully scrutinise companies’ actions in this area."

The setting of standards – where even competitor companies agree to make goods or services behave in a uniform way – is vital for the prevention of technical stifling of competition, he said.

"It is also crucial to ensure that standard setting procedures work well, and that access to standards is available on fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory terms," he said. "We are currently reviewing our Guidelines on Horizontal Agreements ... and in particular providing more analysis of standardisation agreements."

Almunia said that the review will take effect before the end of this year.

He also said that the Commission would take action on copyright to attempt to make it easier to buy and sell copyrighted material across the EU's borders.

"The distribution of online content across the EU is expensive, difficult, and primitive if compared to the technology we now have," he said. "In particular, we need to address the persistent market fragmentation for online rights management, which harms consumers, right-holders and everyone else in between."

"We need to open access to content, simplify copyright clearance and the management of cross-border licensing, make cross-border transactions straightforward, and encourage innovative methods of online payments," said Almunia. "Last Wednesday the Commission announced, in our Communication about the new Single Market Act, that we will table legislative proposals regarding copyright management. The aim of such proposals is to improve access to content and the transparency of rights management across the EU."

The Commission has previously identified the competing requirements of copyright laws in the EU's 27 member countries as a barrier to cross border trade.

"There is a huge Digital Single Market for audiovisual material. The problem is that it is illegal, and it is not monetised," said Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes earlier this year. "We have effectively allowed illegal file-sharing to set up a single market where our usual policy channels have failed."

"Consumers can buy CDs in every shop but are often unable to buy music online across the EU because rights are licensed on a national basis. No wonder the US market for online music is five times bigger than Europe's," she said. "Creating the legal Digital Single Market will lead to a wealth of options for citizens. It will strike a blow against piracy and benefit authors and artists. And it will do this without endangering the open architecture that is essential for the internet. It is obviously common sense to fix problems like this."

Copyright © 2010, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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