Copyright reform must consider economics of territoriality

Supporting cross-border content and operability must be considered alongside the economic needs of territoriality, writes Jean-Marie Cavada.

Jean-Marie Cavada | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual

By Jean-Marie Cavada

12 Jul 2016

The digital realm is shaking up all sectors of our economy. This means we must rethink our growth models. Above all else, this is an opportunity for the dissemination of knowledge and culture.

As such, I don't believe copyright is a hindrance to the circulation of, or access to, audiovisual works. We must, however, modernise copyright and adapt it to new consumption habits.

Too often, authors are pitted against consumers, just as copyright is pitted against digital rights. This fantasy must be dispelled. 


Authors and consumers are inseparable allies within the same ecosystem; when a user participates in the financing - and, by extension, the protection - of creation, the author intellectually feeds the consumer and contributes to the cultural diversity that Europe boasts. This ecosystem must be preserved, otherwise digital content may suffer, as could European cultural diversity.

In a period of uncertainty for Europe's future, it's important to underline the benefits of European integration.

Our cultural industry has helped global digital champions emerge, such as Spotify and Deezer and perhaps Vodkaster in future. These could, potentially, have to compete with US digital giants; they are also essential to the dissemination of our artists' work.

In order for this ecosystem to continue, two things need to happen; a high level of copyright protection and fair remuneration, which is essential for developing and producing content and value transfer.

In this regard, European digital single market Commissioner Andrus Ansip's position has shifted considerably since the start of the legislature and has, in my view, become more balanced. 

As Parliament's rapporteur on cross-border portability of online content services in the internal market, I salute him for outlining his position on the matter. I also agree with him on the protection of personal data. 

Ansip has also said he is in favour of cross-border portability of content, while advocating an efficient system to verify a user's place of residence. This is crucial in maintaining the principle of territoriality, which in my view is vital. 

As such, for the past few months I have insisted on making the distinction between cross-border portability of content, which should be encouraged in order to improve access to culture, and cross-border access to content, which could be harmful to copyright.

While we must maintain and support cross-border content and interoperability, we must also respect the many economic models of the European cultural industry, which are based on territoriality. 

This is at the heart of the audiovisual sector and must not be called into question. Europe's vague tendency to try and harmonise its cultural market contradicts its linguistic and cultural heterogeneity.

Additionally, we cannot modernise copyright rules without also looking at new ways of fighting digital piracy.

The digitalisation of content means it can reach a wider audience. This is a good thing, but it can also lead to harmful effects for authors. This is why we must rethink the current instruments we have at our disposal for combatting piracy in light of new technologies. In this sense, I believe the Commission's geoblocking proposals bring a balanced response to this issue. 

By tackling unjustified geoblocking, the Commission is indirectly highlighting that illegal access to works that are protected by territorial licences must remain punishable by law. I believe, therefore, that it is important to make a distinction between justified and unjustified geoblocking.

However, I find the Commission's approach to online platforms somewhat baffling. These platforms are central actors in the chain of responsibility when it comes to copyright.

They have clearly evolved from being simple service providers for content, to being editors. While they were previously just in charge of stocking data, they are now in charge of processing, indexing and promoting it, using specific techniques to determine users' profiles. 

How can services that are so deeply involved in the distribution of protected content still be exempt from responsibilities outlined in the eCommerce directive?

I find the Commission's reluctance to act on this issue quite worrying. We must redefine the status of service providers, in a way that better balances value sharing. Many platforms make a profit from the content they broadcast, without participating financially in its production. They must be liable to copyright rules.

The huge benefits brought forth by the digitalisation of content must not overshadow the many ambiguities that persist. It is our responsibility to differentiate the internet as a great tool for democracy and knowledge sharing and the myth of no-cost services. I will personally see to it that this is done. If we do not take a firm stand on this, copyright could be in serious danger.


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