Cultural industries unite against copyright reform

Dante Desarthe: "It is never too early to worry about protecting copyright" [denej/Flickr]

France’s cultural industries have shown their determination to fight European copyright reform plans. A parallel movement among members of the European Parliament hopes to have the Electronic Commerce Directive re-examined as part of the reform package. EURACTIV France reports

The future of European cultural diversity was the subject of a conference organised in Paris by the French Society of Multimedia Authors, SCAM, on Thursday, 12 March.

Digital Economy Commissioner Günther Oettinger has promised to have a proposal for copyright reform on the table this summer, but the filmmaker Dante Desarthe’s view that “it is never too early to worry about protecting copyright” echoed the battle cry of the French cultural world – do not endanger cultural diversity!

>> Read: Copyright reform or cultural nightmare?

Exactly what the Commission hopes to put in the reformed rules remains unclear, and it is this vagueness that worries French stakeholders. The rights of French authors and artists have always been very well protected. There are societies like SACD for musicians and SCAM for the audio-visual sector, as well as the private copying levy and public subsidy mechanisms for the cinema industry.

In short, French cultural stakeholders have a lot to lose. And they are not the only ones. France’s Minister for Culture Fleur Pellerin, told EURACTIV that, “France has found allies in all those EU countries that want to protect Europe’s cultural diversity”.

While France appears to be on the warpath, with Patrick Klugman of the Paris Mayor’s office talking of a “battle” between France and the EU, others see the situation as an opportunity.

Historian Jean-Noël Jeanneney even suggested that the Commission’s prioritising of the copyright issue could be taken as a “homage” to the cultural professions. Or even, ironically, to France? Many French cultural initiatives, like the nationwide summer music festivals or museum weeks, are admired and emulated across Europe.

>> Read: Private copying levy in EU’s firing line

Technology driving reform?

Maria Martin-Prat, head of the copyright unit in the European Commission, explained that copyright reform was necessary for technical reasons, and that it should be better adapted to the changing ways in which European citizens consume cultural products. “The way in which works are protected has changed a great deal with digitalisation. We have left behind CDs and books in favour of distribution networks, so works become more like services,” the civil servant said.

But in the French cultural world, comparing a piece of literature to a service is rather like declaring war.

Another source of incomprehension between Paris and Brussels is the fact that a reduced level of VAT is paid on paper books but not on e-books. For the French, the concept of copyright as a link between an author and his work is completely at odds with the idea of paying for a consumer service.

>> Read: Tintin writer: ‘Copyright has always been a battle’

The Commission representative tried to defuse some of the concerns over the proposed reforms. “We have to cut the drama from the debate. Yes, our objective is to adapt the copyright laws, but this is something that we have already done, particularly with the directive on orphan works; it’s normal to amend a directive,” she argued.

Heated debate in Parliament

Among the numerous amendments submitted by MEPs to Julia Reda’s report, several highlighted the need to revise the Electronic Commerce Directive as part of the reform package.

“It is a very heated debate in the European Parliament for a simple resolution, but it is very important. In the end, the result will represent the opinion if the European Parliament,” said the radical socialist MEP Virginie Rozière.

Arriving at a consensual text by the end of May, the due date for the plenary vote on the report, will be no easy task for the MEPs.

“The diversity and number of amendments shows that there is absolutely no political consensus among the groups, which is always complicated to deal with,” Julia Reda told EURACTIV.

Nevertheless, the Pirate Party MEP is delighted with the interest that has been shown in her report. Following several attacks on Twitter, she agreed to meet the head of the French Senate’s Cultural Affairs Committee, Catherine Morin-Desailly, and the Minister for Culture in April.

But for many representatives and stakeholders in France, this is a debate that should not even be taking place.

“I don’t see how copyright is a cross-border issue. No serious evaluation of the subject has ever been made. When we want to translate a book, we buy the rights, then we translate it. That’s it,” said Arnaud Noury, CEO of the publishing house Hachette.

This point of view is shared by Pierre-François Racine, president of the French Higher Council on Literary and Artistic Property (CSPLA), which published a report arguing that the 2001 directive did not require amending. 

Catherine Morin-Desailly, President of the Cultural Affairs Committee in the French Senate, said "If we continue to build motorways for Chinese lorries that transport American goods, we run the risk of becoming a digital colony!"

Janine Lorente, President of the Society of Audiovisual Authors (SAA), said "When I talk about consumers, I don't mean the European consumer associations that are campaigning against copyright. Nobody is going out onto the streets to say that authors are too well protected! And I find it strange that we have no problem paying €600 for a tablet made in a country that uses child labour, but we don't want to pay a fee for private copying!"

"I am wary of the idea of cultural diversity, as if everyone was shut into their own little world. The doors are already open, there is already a European circuit, there is no such thing as a fixed identity. Authors have been influencing each other for a long time. Kafka was influenced by Flaubert; for example," said Martin de Hann, a literary translator.

"I see a natural process of evolution in content, with falling prices; it is an evolution that takes time and allows those involved to adapt. Do we need a "Polpotian" model, with ideological positions that hinder any change? Or should we allow cultural offerings to change progressively in line with consumption? This debate has to take place," said Gilles Babinet, manager of CaptainDash.

Barbara Gessler, the head of the culture unit for the programme Europe Créative called for greater support for translation and argued for the subsidising of literary translation in order to promote literature. 

The modernisation of copyright law is one of the priorities of Jean-Claude Juncker's presidency of the European Commission.

"All sectors of the economy and society are becoming digital. Europe should be on the front line of this digital revolution for its citizens and businesses. Obstacles to digitalisation are obstacles to employment, prosperity and progress," he said during his announcement of the European executive's work programme.

Jean-Claude Juncker's strategy for a single European market is as follows: to build confidence between stakeholders, to bulldoze obstacles, to guarantee connectivity and access to digital technology across the EU, to build a digital economy, to promote e-society and invest in research in technology and information. Andrus Ansip, the Vice-President of the Digital Single Market, is leading this initiative. 

12 March: Auteurs&Co 2015 meeting: Single market... Single culture? - Scam

16 April: European Parliament Committee on Legal Affairs votes on amendments to the report by Julia Reda

20 May: Plenary vote on report

French Senate

French High Council for Literary and Artistic Property

European Parliament

European Commission



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