Thursday, May 17, 2012

Busy agenda for France’s new government in the creative and digital fields

by Emmanuel Legrand
It’s time for change in France. Following the French presidential elections, which crowned the Socialist candidate Francois Hollande, a busy agenda awaits the new government headed by Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault.
Just to focus on topics of interest to this blog -- the creative economy -- the new rulers will have a full plate. Traditionally, the French State has always been active in the creative fields, regardless of their political side. As usual, in its own very idiosyncratic way, France will certainly experiment in the creative field.
Former president Nicolas Sarkozy and the creative sector had a love/hate relationship, but many in the community praised his capacity to address the issue of illegal file sharing through the Hadopi law, which introduced the three-strike scheme. Sarkozy was also instrumental in the creation of the Centre National de la Musique (National Centre for Music), a new organisation that will inject over €150 million each year in the music sector to support the production, distribution, live exposure and export of French music.
Many executives within French music trade bodies (shared also by the film industry) are worried that a Socialist-led government would dismiss on political grounds all the achievements from the previous government, especially the Hadopi law. But there is also concern about the CNM. 
The much controversial Hadopi law will most certainly be revised, if not abolished. It was a pledge from the candidate Hollande, and it is likely President Hollande will be true to his word. What is less clear though is what he will replace it with. 
The creative sectors will have at least two ports of call within the government: the Minister of Culture and Communications Aurélie Filipetti -- who replaces Frédéric Mitterrand -- and Fleur Pellerin who is Minister in charge of SMEs, Innovation and Digital Economy. (Incidentally, both women highlight the mixed origins of today’s population in France: Filipetti is the daughter of an Italian miner, and Pellerin was born in Seoul and was adopted by a French couple.)
According to French newspapers, the government will call for a vast consultation this July and discuss with stakeholders all the key internet related issues and the future of Hadopi will certainly be high on the agenda. Other issues include the VAT on creative goods such as books, films or concert tickets (raised from 5.5% to 7% by the previous government), the financing of creative works, or the role of collective rights management organisation (Filipetti is in favour of greater control of such organisations). 
A writer and a teacher, Filipetti has been in charge of cultural issues within the Socialist Party and was one of the most ardent opponents to the Hadopi law when it was presented before the Parliament by the previous government. The Socialists reluctance to endorse what many in the creative community, especially the music and film sectors, traditionally supporters of left-wing policies, considered as a necessary step to combat piracy has created a divide between the the two sides.
The fact that the Socialist Party, in its vast majority, also supported in 2005 the introduction of a “global license” which aimed at creating a single blanket license for all online usage (and thus putting an end to exclusive rights and making P2P sharing legal), had not helped either. However, many also believe that being in power will lead to a “reality check” and that the government will need to find a balanced solution between rights owners and .
Filipetti was critical of the CNM too. She has voice on several occasions her view that it favours too much the “majors” and should be more geared towards indie labels and non-profit structures helping up and coming artists. (Overall, Filipetti does not really like major companies, it seems!)
But Filipetti’s actions will also be balanced by another voice in the government, that of Pelerin, whose digital agenda crosses many Cabinet departments. Pelerin -- who was seen at Midem 2012 in Cannes where she met a wide range of industry executives -- was already in charge of digital issues at the Socialist Party and has a balanced view between the need to foster a dynamic digital industry and the necessity to ensure that those who provide content for these industries get properly compensated.
There are also two influential voices that could have a significant say in defining the policies in the creative sectors, and they are both at the Elysées Palace, close to Hollande: one is David Kessler who has been appointed adviser on all cultural and communications issues, and the other is the President’s chief of staff (directrice de cabinet) Sylvie Hubac.
Kessler has made most of his career in the creative sector. He has been the director of the CNC, the National Centre for Cinematography, and most recently served as managing director of arts weekly Les Inrockuptibles. He is understood to be close to the creative community. Hubac is a civil servant who has held various positions in cultural-related organisations. Both Hubac and Kessler will benefit from the closeness to the president and it can be quite certain that both will be heavily lobbied by the creative industries.

[Update (23/05/2012): the government has appointed former CEO of pay-TV group Canal+ Pierre Lescure to head a consultation on the future of Hadopi.] 

[Typed while listening to 'Dark Eyes' (Indica Records), the exquisite debut album from Quebec's Half Moon Run (think early Radiohead mixed with Arcade Fire), and Gravenhurst's 'The Ghost In Daylight' (Warp).]

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