Think of Europe as a patchwork quilt. One, single quilt made of patches of different shapes and sizes.
Each patch is a combinations of fabrics, threads and colours, with their own story. Some of the patches are even miniature patchworks themselves.
These different fabrics, threads and colours are our cultural diversity and are also apparent in the commercial markets of each country. National markets have grown within and alongside the development of Europe. These markets tailor products and services to the local needs and demand.
Even Hollywood adapts its releases and film promotion across the different European markets. Dubbing, subtitling, posters and release dates have all been known to be changed to increase the possibility of success in a particular market, on top of promotional tours (with actors in tow) targeted at each market’s media.
As films and TV shows drive internet traffic across the continent, there are many who want to make creative works that are available in one country available to all. There are some critics who say the barrier to this is copyright law. They complain about the territoriality of copyright - a misunderstanding as copyright itself is not territorial. Laws are. Markets are. Commercial strategies are. Consumer needs and demand are. They criticise the industrial luddites for not wanting to modernise and license across Europe.
The film production industry, both European and American, resolutely defend this territorial exploitation.
In fact they do it for different reasons. Think of film production and distribution as making and selling a cake. First off, the studios have the resources to buy all the ingredients up front. Once baked, the studios sell their cake piece by piece to the different markets. Now, the amount a consumer might pay for a whole cake is probably lower than the combined amount you could make by selling all of the pieces of the same cake. It is undoubtedly in the studios best financial interest to sell films to the European market piece by piece, national market by national market.
European productions (as well as independent productions from the States) often start off from a very different place. First of all there isn’t enough money for the ingredients. The only way to be able to make the cake in the first place, is to cut the cake up in advance and promise to sell parts to distributors if they advance the cost of their part of the cake. These advances are enough to buy the ingredients and make the cake.
Translated to film, a European producer relies on selling their film market by market to be able to find enough partners to finance the work, to actually turn the project into a reality. This pre-financing is the system we have found to help Europe compete very successfully on the world stage. Pre-financing guarantees the pre-financer of the rights to their territory.
If we wanted to go down a “pan-European exploitation” path the studios would lose out financially, but still be able to adapt as they have the financial backing to produce up front. The whole system of European production on the other hand, would be thrown into doubt completely.
As a result both American and European producers defend “territoriality”, but in reality they are coming at the question from two completely different angles. One is maximising revenues, the other is survival.
European directors and screenwriters would love to see their works available across Europe, helping share and inform each other about our shared values and differences. But rushed, broad brush stroke legislation questioning the territorial licensing of copyright can only be damaging to the vibrant cinema industry we have successfully nurtured. If pan-European availability of works is the end goal then we should look at encouraging investment by such pan-European services in production in the future.