Access to Content (A2C) in the Digital Media Environment (NCCR Trade Regulation)

DURATION OF THE PROJECT: September 2009 - August 2011

The project examined the conditions of access to content in the digital media environment. It sought to propose improvements to the present governance framework that would render it more conducive to access and distribute knowledge as an increasingly critical factor to sustaining innovation and creativity.

The effects of the digital networked environment cannot be contained in a single neatly organised package but are dispersed and affect, to a different degree, the existing regulatory regimes for telecommunications, audiovisual media services, copyright, cultural policy and human rights protection measures. The intrinsic ‘globalness’ of the digital ecology has not eradicated the possibilities for ‘local’ interventions in all these domains – the effects of the local measures are however often globally spread (for example internet filtering). This makes the regulatory environment outstandingly complex and fragmented (both in terms of layers and of domains) and renders regulatory design accordingly intricate. Under these circumstances, the A2C question had to be addressed with cautious consideration of all these layers and realms.

It was the purpose of this project to do so, paying particular attention to international trade regulation, and to come up with some tangible policy proposals of how better to foster A2C in the digital media environment. The analysis is two-pronged: it sought to examine at first, the existing rules that create barriers to access to content (and how they can be dismantled) and secondly, the existing flexibilities in the rules’ structure that may allow intervention fostering access to content.

Accounting for the growing importance of A2C, it was essential that the appropriate mixture of technical, economic and societal regulation was identified to fill the ‘governance gaps’ between the economically-motivated activities of key stakeholders and the external consequences for other market players, users and the public at large. Depending on the concrete conditions and considering the affordances of the digital mode of content production, distribution and access, this may mean extending or shrinking regulation in various areas. Furthermore, it had to be tested which regulatory issues are best dealt with at the national level, at the bilateral/regional level or are most suitably addressed by the WTO.

This project was embedded in 'Innovation and Creativity in International Trade', a workpackage PD Dr. Mira Burri co-lead by Prof. Dr. Thomas Cottier.