Where is the culture in the Digital Single Market?

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The Commission DSM proposal would align VAT rates for paper and electronic books. [Zhao !/Flickr]

A digital pact is a good idea. But Pascal Rogard asks what is being done to foster the diversity of our cultures.

Pascal Rogard is director general of the French Society of Dramatic Authors and Composers (SADC).

On 6 May, the European Commission presented its strategy for a Digital Single Market – expectations are high. With an expected €415 billion per year and one hundred thousand newly created jobs, the digital sector very much looks like an Eldorado.

But sometimes, there is only a fine line between a miracle to a mirage. The European Commission focuses on three fundamental pillars to consolidate a digital Europe: better access to online goods and services across Europe for consumers and businesses; the creation of a favourable environment and fair competitive conditions for the development of innovative digital networks and services; the maximisation of the growth potential of the digital economy. Yet, to add a fourth pillar would consolidate the project.

As a matter of fact, the foundations of a digital Europe show a lack of ambition, they are unbalanced and suffer from omissions, all of which represent potential handicaps. It gives the idea of an obvious failure to envisage a pact for culture – a pact now essential for Europeans, who are citizens in need of an identity before being consumers. It is essential too for the future of creators and European creation in the digital era.

If I had to do it again, I would begin with culture.” Jean Monnet never said these words he is credited for, yet he could have in view of the need to build a European identity.

We are convinced that culture, in all its multitalented diversity, is a chance for Europe. It certainly is a chance for the economy, but it can also recreate a bond between populations and the idea of Europe. Obviously, we also believe that digital technologies are an opportunity for culture, for the dissemination and circulation of works.

Yet, there is no great policy without great ambition. The declared flagship measure of the European strategy, authors’ rights, are less in need of reform than of respect. That means putting a stop to the piracy of works. We are certainly in favour of increasing the portability of services, but is there no greater ambition to defend? No author would oppose improved cross-border access to his/her work, as long as the financing of the work is not sacrificed and prior access and presence on new services is ensured.

There was constructive dialogue between creators and the Commissioner in charge of the digital economy and society, Günther Oetttinger. The French government too was able to mobilise its European partners, particularly Italy and Germany, and to convince them that it is important not to weaken support to creation and cultural diversity.

However, the European Commission’s eagerness to reform authors’ rights via a directive which will be in motion by the end of the year hardly conceals its hesitations and timidity when it comes to implementing the much needed and urgent reforms in favour of creation and culture. We would have expected a much bolder attitude on four broad objectives.

The first one is dealt with in a single line in the presentation of the Commission’s digital strategy: to reinforce creators’ remuneration. No calendar, no indication on how to reach this goal. Nothing.

To ensure the promotion of European works on online distribution platforms by putting a stop to the impunity the internet’s big players enjoy when they establish their base in countries where obligations to invest and disseminate European creation is at its lowest. There again, the nature and extent of measures which could be implemented is neither mentioned nor specified!

To apply the same VAT rate to all cultural goods, whether digital or not. We say yes! But when exactly?

And finally, in order to find the most efficient way to fight against commercial piracy by dealing with the liability regime of web hosting and internet intermediary services providers, the Commission will by the end of 2015 launch a complete evaluation of the role played by online platforms. Potential decisions will come later. This is too late, much too late. The digital revolution speeds up everything, good and bad, and here, the later action is taken, the greater the damage.

The European digital project cannot consist of bare lines of figures and percentages. It should defend values, ambitions and set rules and policies which place culture and creation at the very heart of the European identity, which foster the protection of authors’ rights, which guarantees a fair remuneration for creators and which facilitates the public’s access to European works – works which need to be created before being made accessible.

If Europe does not intend to reshape cultural diversity with its strategy for a digital single market, if it does not want to integrate in it a cultural agenda which is coherent and ambitious, clear and precise, that could mean its renunciation. It opts out politically and culturally and, as a result, European creation’s power and dynamism will gradually be eroded and dissolved within a big market ruled by extra-European distribution platforms for films, music and books.

This strategy for a single digital market is not the finishing line. It should be the starting point to build a strong and attractive Europe, both digital and cultural. Europe has the assets. Now it must get the means to do so.

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