Between a rock and a hard place

The recent report by Green Pirate MEP Julia Reda really hammers home how the polarisation of the authors’ rights/ copyright debate has made it difficult for creators to talk about the future of their industry.  The latest blog post by Ms Reda asserts as much, too.

If authors defend their rights, they are anti-progress suffering from some sort of Stockholm syndrome for their industry oppressors.  If authors’ defend improving availability of works, they support the weakening of their European business partners and ultimately their ability to make films.

What’s an author to do?

Look at the recent case of independent musician Zoe Keating in the States.  As an individual artist, who has deliberately eschewed record labels to have control of her work and its distribution (she uploaded her own albums to torrent sites), she has no power to negotiate with an operator like Google’s You Tube.

Some creative works, like audiovisual works, sit in a special place between industry and culture.  It’s what makes policy making in this area complex.  It’s what puts creators in a difficult place when negotiating contracts – do I risk being unable to make my film by negotiating harder?  Do I risk never working with a producer again by criticising them for not remunerating me properly?

It also puts them in a difficult position in the copyright debate.  Ask a creator “would you rather your works were available across Europe or just in some countries?” – They will answer, “Across Europe, of course.” They also want them subtitled and dubbed for all the languages too, though.  Ask them if they would prefer people to watch their new film on the big screen or a computer screen and they would answer that they of course prefer a large number of cinemas to release it. But some would also be happy to offer VOD experience to remote areas with no cinemas. Ask them if they mind someone making a mash-up using their work, they’d probably say of course not.  But ask that permission be required to ensure their moral rights are respected, and their work can’t be used in a way they feel inappropriate.

These questions are not that simple for individual creators to answer. If you add the industrial reality of their sector, it does not simplify it at all.

The industrial side of the sector, the part that looks for investment and to cover financial risk, means pan-European distribution is not the norm for European works.  The marketing around films is still, for the most part, focussed around the cinema release with success driving subsequent value.  Mash-ups or remixes that disrespect a work or make money (either for the remixer or remix hosting service) without sharing those revenues with the other creators need legal recourse.

Does this debate really oppose consumers against rightsholders? There are many companies who also stand to benefit financially from reducing the value and scope of licences for creative works.  These companies claim to defend consumer choice and squeeze the creative value chain in order to provide lower prices. As always, those squeezed the most are at the bottom of the chain.

Audiovisual works are expensive to make.  Investment is already difficult to find. Creators want to create, they want their works to find an audience.  But creation does not happen in a vacuum.  Creators without collective power are lost against their industry partners and the new online gatekeepers to their audience.

Weakening the weakest link in the chain seems an odd place to start in achieving a European Digital Single Market.

JT

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