Authors’ organisations open the European copyright ball

Authors’ organisations of the text (EWC), visual arts (EVA) and music (ECSA) sectors held conferences to address new MEPs last week. They kicked off the copyright event season as the new Commission started work and whose President has announced ambitious legislative proposals within the first 6 months.

While the European Commission President wants to break down national silos in copyright (whatever that means), these events explained the reality of an author’s life through the testimonies of writers, photographers and music composers. The general message was that the authors’ position is not improving while there are now many different ways to enjoy their works. An ALCS study on writers’ earnings showed that in 2005, 40% of professional authors earned their income solely from writing. In 2013, that figure had dropped to just 11.5%. The typical income from writing has fallen 29% in real terms since 2005.

As far as their contracts are concerned, the effort and time needed before having a contract is huge for audiovisual authors. Existing contractual protection (where it exists) is ineffective and difficult to enforce (KEA/CRIDS study for the European Parliament). The limited effect of these protective rules is due to the weak bargaining position of authors. They face a take-it or leave-it choice or the commission will go to someone else. A photographer asked ‘what is contractual freedom between an individual and a corporation?’

The common ground between these sectors is the lack of effective contractual freedom. A professor emphasized the need for collectivism to counter the lack of individual bargaining power. A copyright expert from the European Commission sketched out 3 possible approaches for the EU on this issue of fair contracts and fair remuneration: intervene on contractual law, develop a remuneration right (on the model of the lending right), support collective bargaining. These 3 approaches are not necessarily exclusive.

It was extremely important to hear these authors and their representatives at this crucial point. The Commission services are going to prepare a legislative initiative on copyright according to the instructions from the highest political level. Unfortunately, the highest political level is very focused on cross-border access to content, a tiny issue in the copyright field but very high on their agenda for a digital single market. .

While Olli Rehn, vice-President of the European Parliament, summed it up well – appropriate remuneration for work is the only way to ensure that the whole chain will thrive – it seems that authors’ remuneration in the digital era will not be addressed unless authors’ organisations increase the pressure.

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