Europe’s creative and cultural sectors are some of our biggest successes — and copyright makes them tick.
The European Commission has published long-awaited details of how it intends to update Europe’s copyright rules. But if done the wrong way, its efforts to improve access to creative content risk harming its very production in Europe.
Talented people who act on ideas are the essence of European culture and innovation. Bringing these ideas to life, and to consumers — whether on a screen, games console, page or online — takes huge amounts of work, and huge amounts of investment.
Copyright ensures that creators can earn a living doing what they do best. It ensures that potential backers for a creative project have the prospect of recouping their investment. The business model of many creative sectors is driven by hits, and more niche work is often only possible thanks to revenues from big commercial successes.
ITV, a commercial TV network in the U.K., could never have made Downton Abbey if it didn’t pre-sell the rights to its partners in different markets. Copyright, and specifically territorial exclusivity, ensures football fans the world over can watch their favorite local heroes with commentary from familiar faces who share their perspective.
It also makes it possible for publishers to tailor educational content and ensure that teachers and pupils have access to specialized material. Skilled photojournalists can’t cover news reliably and impartially without money earned from copyright. In fact, name any kind of service providing creative content, and you can bet that copyright was essential in bringing it to consumers.
National cultural policies define “exceptions” to copyright rules which permit lifting of copyright protection in certain circumstances. The Commission’s talk of “harmonizing” certain exceptions across the EU is particularly worrying. The suggested exceptions would prevent authors from being properly paid for their work, and are so broad and so difficult to control that they will make the concept of remuneration for creative work as virtual as teleportation.
The shockwaves will reverberate beyond the writers and editors themselves: Educational publishers and bookshops, to name just two groups, could see their businesses gutted by the innocuous-sounding exceptions suggested by the Commission to help research and education.
Copyright is not just for superstars or multinationals — as repeatedly highlighted by Creativity Works!, a federation of EU creative industries. Ninety-nine percent of creative businesses in Europe are micro-, small- or medium-sized enterprises that rely on copyright to survive. Due to their size, they are the ones who are most sensitive to changes in their business environment.
Europe’s creative sectors work hard to give consumers what they want. Copyright has helped them do this, especially as consumer habits become ever more individual across the continent. Only 8 percent of consumers have tried to access content online that was designed for other countries, according to the latest Eurobarometer poll, suggesting they are generally happy with what’s on offer domestically.
New technology is hardwired into the creative and cultural sectors. Just think: Online music is the norm. Audiovisual content has seen huge jumps in online purchases — up 43 percent in 2013 alone. Video games are a fusion of art and technology — they were born digital, and Europe’s video game and app developers are among the best in the world. There are over 2 million ebooks available, and books are the most-purchased items online. Creativity and technology go hand-in-hand.
Measured changes to the copyright regime will only be beneficial if accompanied by structural measures to support the success of our creative sectors. Access to high-speed internet connection is a basic requirement of the most cutting-edge online offers — but its rollout has been patchy across Europe. Reliable payment systems are vital to help consumers trust what they’re buying. Digital skills training helps people make full use of digital resources. Balanced intellectual property enforcement would benefit rights holders and the public at large by creating the trust necessary to do business online.
Copyright isn’t the only thing that makes the creative sector tick. But it is vital. The flexibility of the current licensing system has made a great deal possible, and territorial exclusivity and the current legal framework have been lynchpins of the system. Weakening copyright protection to suit large tech companies — that tend to simply aggregate the work of others — risks drying up cultural production in Europe.
Richard Malka is a cartoonist and media lawyer best known for defending Charlie Hebdo.