Carole Tongue: ‘Funding for creative works is under threat in the digital age’

Carole Tongue [Sandunya/Wikipedia]

The European Commission is working on proposals to reform EU copyright law, leading some to fear for the protection of authors’ rights and the future funding of the creative industries. Carole Tongue explains EURACTIV that a new association of European coalitions for cultural diversity will work to protect culture and copyrights in the EU.

Carole Tongue has been named chairman of the Association of European Coalitions for Cultural Diversity, to be launched on Wednesday (4 March) in Brussels.

Why are you launching an association of European coalitions on cultural diversity?

National coalitions for cultural diversity were born after 2005 and the Unesco convention on the diversity of cultural expression. Until now, national coalitions have met informally, but we reached the limits of this informal network. Now we’re constructing a legal structure in Brussels, with the aim of becoming a major partner of the EU institutions on cultural issues. We already represent 13 countries, Greek and Dutch coalitions are being formed and will join us soon, and we also have contacts with Turkish and Ukrainian organisations. We hope to become an indispensable authority on cultural policies.

But we are also responding to an urgent situation, as the Commission is about to make proposals for copyright reform in the EU. Funding for creative works, EU cultural policies and authors’ rights are under threat in the digital age, and we mean to share our experience on these issues.

What are the concrete risks involved in copyright reform?

The Reda report suggests harmonising exceptions and putting an end to territorial creative rights. We think this is a very dangerous idea. The generalisation of exemptions would take many years, and it would undermine many cultural industries as we know them.

For example, the film industry works as a chain, and if its pre-financing is affected, the whole film industry will suffer as a result.

What would you recommend to the Commission as an alternative?

The EU institutions have to take a more holistic approach towards culture. The whole system, including copyright, should work together to build a European identity and celebrate the diversity of cultural expression.

But the main message is that I see no reason not to continue with existing collective management organisations that finance cultural events – just as many EU institutions do! It would be contradictory to supress this resource: the EU cultural subsidies would lose their leverage.

Finally, we need to ensure internet multinationals pay their fair share of taxes. It’s unjustifiable for them to engage in such aggressive tax planning and at the same time to avoid serious investment in the EU. Our message is this: please concentrate on having the big players pay their taxes instead of focusing on copyright reform.

Do you think the copyright debate is a political debate?

Everything is political when it comes to the Commission. We are all consumers, and I understand the pro-consumer arguments. But politics must protect the financing of cultural creation. The Commission is right now looking at narrowing the debate by overstating the geo-blocking problems. The risk is that this will create the ideal conditions for huge platforms that will dominate the market.

This is less an issue of copyright than of business models: if platforms do not offer the same thing everywhere, that’s their problem. Let’s face it, only 3 % of the EU population lives abroad, and only 2 % travel regularly enough to need portable services. The markets are just not big enough for big platforms. So it’s a mistake to believe that portability will answer the question.

Is the digital age a threat to cultural diversity?

It’s difficult for writers and publishers today, and their situation is worsening. 96% of book sales depend on only 4 % of writers today. I know some song writers who invest heavily in their own music, only to see their albums available for free download before they have even been released. In Spain, we have seen artists’ incomes drop dramatically since 2009, mainly because of piracy. This is the real danger! Territoriality is not.

Is the EU confronting the piracy issue?

There is a “follow the money” project which many actors are working on; internet players, advertisers and card vendors. But we need to do something strong on piracy. Why do search engines bring up so many websites with pirated material?

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