Saturday, August 28, 2004


Yesterday, a well-known Maine citizen aka Tom the Blog Dictator expressed concerns over the EU’s Competition Department opening an investigation into a Microsoft and Time Warner agreement that would effectively put them in charge of Contentguard.

To clarify what Contentguard does: well, with the arrival of the worldwide web, companies had the possibility to online offer hitherto unknown amounts of digital info, whether it be audio, text, video, games, business information or whatever. Of course a lot of these data can’t be copied or used right away. So the owners of web information and service providers effectively need a powerful software tool for the description, interpretation, and enforcement of rights to use any web resource.

Well, Contentguard is a company offering such a software tool. It developed XrML 2.0, which stands for eXtensible rights Markup Language, and which can be used to extend the range of rights-enabled business models applicable to digital content and web services. Learn more about XrML on It’s worth to take a brief look. Technical description here. XrML is an XML-based (XML = HTML’s successor) usage grammar for specifying rights and conditions to control access to digital info and services. XrML’s predecessor was DPRL (Digital Property Rights Language). DPRL in fact became XrML when the lisp-style metalanguage used to construct DPRL was replaced with XML.

Now, with the undreamt of stream of copyright-eligible info on the web, the Digital Rights Management (DRM) market promises to become a vast business in itself. Apparently SuperMario, or the EU’s current Competition Commissioner Mario Monti, saw in the Microsoft/Time Warner initiative another attempt of that vile Bill Gates to dominate a market THAT HAS YET TO DEVELOP!!!

It’s stupid, I admit it. But hold your fire.

Instead, cheer up and answer the following question: what do the following personae have in common?

Neelie Kroes

Laetitia Casta

They are both women. They are both European. They are both defenders of the free market. They are both older than 25 and younger than 64. They both can be found on the net, here for instance for Miss Casta and here for Mrs. Kroes. They both were on board, Mrs. Kroes was on the Supervisory Board of Lucent Technologies BV, Volvo and New Skies Satellite NV and Miss Casta must in her life definitely have been on board of some ship, I mean, when you’re 26 years old one can’t imagine you have never been on some ship, no? They both make men shiver, they both live in a country which is a neighbour of Belgium... the similarities are striking... know what I’m sayin'?

Anyway, without worrying too much about the digital rights management of Tech Central Station I will let them do the talking:

More importantly, there is good news for supporters of the free market: several of the most important Commission jobs have gone to center-right politicians with experience in - gasp! - the private sector. The most crucial assignment - and arguably a more important job than the presidency itself - is that of competition commissioner. The current occupant, Italian Mario Monti, is perhaps most famous for thwarting a couple of high-profile US mergers (WorldCom-Sprint and GE-Honeywell) and for relentlessly pursuing an antitrust case against Microsoft. Monti was successful early on in his tenure at breaking up state monopolies and forcing governments to stop subsidizing anemic business sectors. But lately he has racked up a pathetic record of blocking innovation and letting countries such as France prop up ailing industries.

Replacing him in the new Commission line-up will be a Dutch woman, Neelie Kroes. She's not only a member of the Netherlands' pro-free-market liberal party (VVD), she's also got significant private sector experience, including service on the boards of Lucent Technologies and Volvo. It's too early to tell whether she'll make a real difference in EU antitrust policy (which has grown increasingly ham-fisted of late), but at least she figures to have more sensitivity to the competitive business environment than did the bookish Monti.

Ladies and gentlemen, I would also like to point out that the recent snafus of SuperMario have shed a bad light upon the EU’s Competition Department. Personally, I DO think it can fulfill an important role in Europes business landscape. Just take a look here and don’t tell me you disagree.

Competition is a basic mechanism of the market economy and is a simple and efficient means of guaranteeing consumers a level of excellence in terms of the quality and price of products and services. In order to be effective, competition assumes that the market is made up of suppliers who are independent of each other, each subject to the competitive pressure exerted by the others.

Of course the excesses of this spring have left a drab impression of what an EU Commissioner for Competition stands for. But believe me, there’s a vast array of cases in which its role should rather be lauded than castigated. This very spring I had a post (Kerry will doubtlessly remember) on the EU Competition Department fining the Charleroi-based low-cost airliner Ryanair for having unrightfully received vast amounts of money from the Wallonian Regional Government, which caused an unfair advantage for Ryanair compared to other low-cost carriers such as Virgin: AEA Welcomes European Commission’s Ruling that Payments to Ryanair by Charleroi Airport are State Aids.

My conclusions at the end of the day:

1° Phew. Monti is leaving the scene.
2° In his place as EU Commissioner for Competition comes a true defender of the free market, Neelie Kroes.
3° The EU Competition Department, when it’s not losing itself in pointless cases, is necessary.
4° Not all that comes from France is bad.


No comments: