Mr Juncker: please do not undermine authors’ rights

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

Bertrand Tavernier [Photo : Wikipedia - CC : Georges Seguin].

Bertrand Tavernier [Photo : Wikipedia - CC : Georges Seguin].

When it comes to intellectual property, few debates have been as fierce as the status of film on the Internet. Filmmaker Bernard Tavernier takes to task Commission initiatives to harmonise author rights in the European Union.

Bertrand Tavernier is a French director, screenwriter, actor, and producer.

“Culture is not to be harmonised, not to be standardised, not to be restrained by stupid rules”. Bravo. Three times Bravo to Jean-Claude Juncker for this declaration, made in Paris in 2005 on the occasion of the “Rencontres pour l’Europe de la Culture”.

How we would have preferred to welcome his arrival as President of the European Commission. But unfortunately, there was a sentence, a quasi-warlike injunction to the future Commissioner for the digital industry: break down national barriers to the regulation of authors rights! 

Break down, shatter, destroy authors’ rights – and to do what then? The answer is still coming, but one can already guess the intentions and consequences: to further weaken authors’ remuneration; to destabilize the financing of works and films, particularly in countries benefiting from ambitious policies; to comply with the consumers’ demands.

Endangering authors is all the more insane when we know it will only benefit the major traders of our works and the Internet giants, already treated with great benevolence by the Commission as it accepts that they pay lower taxes and that they circumvent all rules on the financing and dissemination of European works.

The disastrous Barroso presidency initiated a cycle of defiance towards cultural policies and authors’ rights, always weakened, always under attack for not fitting into the mould of the free market. Often with appalling lies repeated year after year: no, what the Commission calls “segmentation of the rights market” has nothing to do with the application of authors’ right. If films are not made available everywhere at the same time, it is primarily due to the functioning (or cautious approach) of distributors who juggle with the specificities of each national market, to the various financing systems for works, the cultural traditions and the diversity of languages. 

So, may those who blame authors’ rights for all our digital ills put an end to these unacceptable practices, based on the absurd idea that Europe is a harmonization machine, that cultural works are just like any other goods and that authors are enemies of their audience.

I do not know of any one author who does not wish to see their work broadcasted, seen, commented upon, but neither do I know of a greater injustice than knowing an author to be robbed and deprived of his fair remuneration and moral right.

Let’s be clear: no one says that authors’ rights are a “sacred cow”. This wonderful right, which associates the author to the success of their work, and which owes so much to Beaumarchais, is a terribly modern right which has evolved again and again over time and with the developing techniques. It can still evolve. So it should even, in order to let authors’ rights become the rights of authors and a right not only restricted to the protection of economic stakeholders.

Modernity is all too often and wrongly attributed to those who think anything should be allowed because it is possible. Yet it does not belong to those who want to shatter and destroy. It belongs to those who defend culture, encourage European creation and consolidate authors’ right.

In 2005, we understood that M. Juncker supported this fight. We hope he will prove that his past commitment in favour of Culture in Europe will guide him into the future, both his and Europe’s future.

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