Monday, February 6, 2012

The Creators Conference (part 3) – Between authors and Europe it’s ‘Je t’aime moi non plus’


By Emmanuel Legrand

Europe’s policies in the copyright and creative sectors were also top of the agenda of the Creators Conference in Brussels on February 3. 

Several high ranked policy-makers and Members of the European Parliament were among the speakers or in attendance, and the songs they heard from authors and composers were not always lullabies…

Barbara Glowacka from the European Commission’s DG Competition kept her composure and smile under attack from a couple of authors. Austrian singer/songwriter Andy Baum had some strong words about the EC’s Competition directorate’s decision to introduce territorial competition between authors’ societies. “Authors are the collecting societies; and putting societies in competition is the most dangerous and rubbish thing Europe has done,” said Baum. “Putting authors and [rights] societies in competitor is about who is the one who yells the louder. This is rubbish.” His English syntax might be poor but Baum’s views were clear and greeted with applauses from the audience.

Barbara Glowacka
Diplomatically, Glowacka said that the EC “recognises the role societies do” and that its action should not be seen as a “negative approach”. “We look at markets and see what is happening. We do it for right holders and make sure you are protected.” But on pan-European licensing, she made it clear that the Competition priority was “that consumers have access to content across the EU”.

Hearing Glowacka going on about “access to consumers”, this old scourge of the DG Competition (also shared with Neelie Kroes, the Commissioner in charge of the digital agenda) made me wonder if it has ever it occurred to the Commission that one of the reasons why platforms do not offer, say, Polish repertoire in the UK, has more to do with the policies of digital platforms than licensing issues? Or that the reason iTunes is not in Latvia has more to do with Apple’s business priorities than a conscious decision from rights owners not to license content?

Creators in the room found a champion in German Member of the European Parliament Helga Truepel who said that she was highly critical of the policies and views of Charly McCreevy, the former European Commissioner for Internal Market, who had no sympathy for rights societies. ‘[Author’s] societies are crucial in the digital environment to enforce the rights of creators,” said Trupel. “Net activist have very bad notions about collecting societies, we need them and we need to make it known.”

On the issue of collecting societies, much was expected from Maria Martin-Prat, the head of unit “Copyright”, intellectual property directorate of the European Commission’s DG Internal Market and Services. Under Commissioner Michel Barnier, her unit is preparing a text on governance and transparency and on pan-European licensing (see my recent post on this topic).

Maria Martin-Prat
But she did not get into the details of the new Directive that her unit is currently drafting. Instead, she went into some philosophical review of what constitutes authors’ rights or copyright. For Martin-Prat copyright is at a crossroads both at a EU level and at a national level. “The way we understand copyright as a right to exercise an individual choice about how creation is used and how to make a living is changing,” she explained.

One of the main criticisms about copyright in Europe, she noted, is that it operates within territorial boundaries. In theory, this is detrimental to the internal market, but the problem can be addressed by facilitating the circulation of rights through a licensing process and the aggregation of repertoire.

In the digital world, works circulate in a different way, and the problem of remuneration has become more acute. “Who is going to benefit the most from the content you create?” she asked the audience. Hence the need for a framework to make sure that all stakeholders operate within certain rules and find a balance between different policy objectives.

And of course it was also question of the proposed merger between the recording division of EMI with Universal and EMI’s publishing division with Sony/ATV. Helen Smith, executive chair of Impala, the European association of independent labels, said the issue was as much one of market dominance as it was one of diversity – cultural, linguistic and economic.

Swedish songwriter and journalist Helienne Lindvall called the merger “a bad thing”. “For one company to have more than 50% market share is not good for anybody,” she elaborated.

On the EMI merger with Universal, Glowacka said she could not comment beyond saying, “We will do our job and take everybody’s views into account before a decision is made.”

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