Posted December 23, 2010 8:57 am by with 0 comments

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In the past we have looked at how the European Commission does its business and let’s just say that we don’t always see eye to eye. Well, a recent ruling from an EU court has me taking a step back and asking more than a few questions.

The folks at ZDNet’s Between the Lines blog report

It’s kind of ironic that the European Commission, a proponent of the international trade agreement to enforce intellectual property rights, is being slapped with a fine of 12 million euros for infringing on the copyrights of a software company.

A European Union court has ruled against the European Commission, the EU’s own executive branch, over a years-long case involving the alteration of a language translation software system created by a French company.

And as if the fine – nearly $15.8 million – isn’t enough, the court ruled that the company could bring another complaint against the commission if it fails to protect the company’s copyright in the future.

It’s ironic for sure and makes me wonder just what the EC is up to as well as what the combination of the EC and EU can do. There’s a few different scenarios that ran through my mind when I saw this. But before we get to those, a little more from the ZDNet post to see just what the EC did to warrant this penalty from the mothership.

At issue was a language translation system that was built by Systran specifically for the EC and managed by Systran from 1997-2002. Later, the EC hired a third-party company to alter, revise and update the system without the consent of Systran, arguing that Systran “had not produced ‘probative documents’ capable of establishing the rights which Systran might claim” and adding that the company had no right to object to the alteration work.

This case has been around for quite some time and broken out the fines are being applied as described below

Broken down, the EU is being fined 7 million Euros in fees that the EC should have paid to Systran between 2004 and 2010 for permission to alter its intellectual property and another 5 million Euros “as compensation for the effect which the Commission’s conduct might have had on Systran’s turnover in the years 2004 to 2010, and more widely on the development of that company. The court also fined the EC another 1,000 Euros as compensation for non-material damage.

So it looks like the EC’s actions may have affected how this company developed. Think about the time and resources used to keep a case like this rolling then not having revenue during these years that should have been paid.

Systran’s press release puts it this way

Following ten years of fighting and a court proceeding lasting nearly four years, the General Court of the European Union has recognized SYSTRAN’s intellectual property rights.

The Court has affirmed the SYSTRAN Group’s ownership of SYSTRAN software and declared the infringement of the copyright and know-how held by the SYSTRAN Group by the European Commission, and has ordered the Commission to pay SYSTRAN liquidated damages in the amount of €12,001,000.

For the first time, a European institution has been condemned in such a manner and to such a degree.

So back to just what this says about the EU and the EC. Here are some options to consider.

The EC Goes By “Do As We Say” Doctrine

Apparently, the EC needs a little attention as to its own practices with running roughshod over companies in their own backyard. Is the EC a classic case of “Do as we say and not as we do”? Let’s hope not but that is always a distinct possibility.

The EC and EU Will Take Its Own Medicine

Whether it is intended or not, seeing an action like this where the EU punishes its own watchdog arm for crimes that that arm should be guarding against shows that the EU is willing to punch itself in the face. It shows it takes their rules seriously (not seriously enough to actually follow them but who’s counting). This can have the effect of scaring those who are fighting the EU / EC on any level because you know they are serious or it can also have the opposite effect of emboldening companies that are being monitored by the EC. The companies under the EC microscope now can say that the EC can’t even manage its own affairs let alone pass judgments on others’.

The EC Is a Train Wreck and Can’t Keep Itself Under Control

I know that in the US when we have people inside the government being revealed as some kind of law breaker or rule bender it almost never makes the people feel that the government is a good watchdog. Most of us just say that the government is inherently corrupt and they only go after their own if there is absolutely no other choice. As a result, many in the American public have a very skewed view of just how competent the government really is since they can’t even keep their own shop in order. The EC getting slapped down by its own court system could show that this is just the most egregious act that has been committed and it had to be handled because it was so public. In other words, is it safe to assume that the EC doesn’t follow its own rules in other instances? You make that call.

Conspiracy Theorists’ Special

The EU court took this final action against the EC just to show the rest of the world that it will do anything, even cutting itself, to carry out its mission. Radical extremists who blow themselves up for their cause or cut themselves in rituals to show their ‘faith’ use this tactic to strike fear in the hearts of their enemies. If the EU / EC alliance is perceived to be crazy enough to harm itself it may give those they are after pause as to how far they want to push a group. Sometimes acting crazy is enough to keep people away from getting involved.

Of course, all of this is pure speculation but if you are Google, for instance, you are paying close attention to this kind of activity. Google is always in the EC crosshairs (no doubt in part to Microsoft egging the EC on which is just weird but whatever). As a result, any action that is taken by the EC must be closely watched and all possible angles need to be taken into consideration.

So, if you made it this far, what is your take on this action by the EU against itself? Is it poetic justice? Is it irony? Is it deserved? Is it contrived? Is it nothing? Did you just waste precious minutes of your day reading it?

Give us your take, please. We suspect there are more than a few opinions floating around about this.