Lucas Belvaux: ‘This copyright reform will impoverish culture’

"Piracy is a more urgent problem than copyright reform." [Georges Biard/Wikipedia]

The planned reform of EU copyright law has caused a wave of protest among rights holders, who fear the financing of the whole cultural sector will be put at risk. 

Lucas Belvaux is a Belgian actor and film director. He met the filmmakers Costa-Gavras, Dariusz Jablonski and Peter Webber (from France, Poland and the UK) in Brussels in order to promote copyright to members of the European Parliament. He was interviewed by EURACTIV France.

The European Commission put copyright reform on its list of priorities for 2015. What do you think of this?

I wonder why it is suddenly such an urgent priority. Copyright certainly needs to be adapted to the changing Internet, but I don’t see how this could be a priority compared to tax harmonisation or European defence. It’s a bit back-to front! And it is rather strange that the one time culture reaches the top of the European political agenda, it is there to be taken apart.

The idea of prioritising is to urgently reform the things that do not work. But copyright is something that works! We should move to strengthen copyright, not to destroy it and replace it with I don’t know what kind of absurd system.

The cultural sector is on the whole strongly opposed to the reforms that have so far been suggested. Which points pose the biggest problems?

In our eyes, there are several problems with the MEP Julia Reda’s report, which proposed a number of reforms to European copyright law. The “Fair view” proposal, for example, is a citation law that means anyone can grab snippets of works and use them as they like, without asking the author’s permission. That means that any political party could use extracts from a song for a campaign video, for a video in favour of a referendum against immigration, etc. I don’t want parts of my films to be taken and used in this way without my permission!

Another problem is that the proposal to reduce the copyright period from 70 years after the death of the author to 50 years goes against the international agreements signed by the European Union.

Finally, it would be possible for large Internet companies to distribute long extracts from films without first asking or paying the rights-holders.

Copyright territoriality is also broadly called into question by this report…

The idea of putting an end to copyright territoriality is extremely serious. We would be forced to sell our rights to one single European operator, which would manage the rights for a film. We would no longer be able to use diverse partners to distribute our films in cinemas or on the television.

That poses several problems. Firstly, when making a film, we would be placed at a disadvantage compared to the five or six big pan-European companies right from the start: they will use the same model of prioritising the kind of films that sell easily.

Directors generally work on a regional basis, looking for the most appropriate partner that will be interested in the film and know its audience, the local television operators, and how to target a specific public.

What is clear is that the best partners for films like mine would not be the best partners for a film like Superman! And it is not certain that the big operators we are being offered would be interested in our films, especially not across the whole of Europe!

Will they be prepared to make a version with Lithuanian subtitles, with all the work that involves and for a relatively small market? Certain regions would end up being completely abandoned by certain types of film. In the long run, these films would cease to exist altogether, and we risk impoverishing culture to a considerable extent. On the other hand, the other kind of cinema, the films that already perform well everywhere, will probably sell a little better.

At the moment we do what we want. We can sell a licence to several regions, we can sell country by country, we can choose. So why replace a system that works with a system that works less well?

Does Julia Reda’s report not make any suggestions that could help with the evolution of copyright?

For years people have been working – in copyright collecting societies, in societies of filmmakers and producers – to find solutions and improve on copyright law. The answer is not going to be found in two months by someone who doesn’t know about copyright or the way in which cultural works are produced. Julia Reda’s report is an array of purely ideological proposals, which makes a first step towards free culture.

In France, an important part of copyright is paid for by the private copying levy, which brings in around €200 million each year, much more than in most other European countries. Will this mechanism have to evolve to keep up with technological changes?

The private copying levy is a very modest cost for the consumer compared to the cost of producing audio-visual works, for example. But of course it should be adapted to technological development. We need to tax the Cloud!

We should not forget that data storage in the cloud is free for the consumer and authors gain nothing from it, while it allows plenty of middle-men to make a fortune. Internet operators and the American giants earn money from products made by people that are not paid. And everyone finds this normal!

Finally, is financing and piracy the main problem for copyright?

Yes, why are we not tackling piracy? I’m not worried about the child that downloads a film to watch it for free, the consumer isn’t the problem. The problem is that between the film and the consumer, there is someone else making money, and they are the real pirate.

Dealing with this is much more urgent than reforming copyright, because its economic impact is much worse.

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