Screenwriters and directors want their works to be reachable by as many people as possible
Robert Alberdingk Thijm, Fred Breinersdorfer, Stijn Coninx, Jan Hrebejk, Agnès Jaoui, Radu Mihaileanu, Volker Schlöndorff, Hugh Stoddart, Bertrand Tavernier, Jaco Van Dormael, Susanna White - Patrons of the Society of Audiovisual Authors - respond to Finish and Spanish ministers' comments in the European Voice.
Content is driving online innovation. There has never been so much creativity made so widely accessible, accounting for a huge proportion of online traffic. It is forcing our cable operators and ISPs to invest in infrastructure.
Contrary to what Ministers Alexander Stubb and Mendez de Vigo wrote in their letter published on 7th June by European Voice, authors’ rights are not stopping the single market going digital. A pan-European investor could provide a pan-European license and a day-and-date release on any platform (think Home by Yann Arthus Bertrand, generously paid for by PPR). The reality is that there are no pan-European investors. Professional creation is expensive. An album may rely on professional songwriters, session musicians, expensive studio equipment, a sound engineer, a producer. 5 minutes at the end of a feature film list the number of people who earn their money from that film.
Professional creation has hence become based on specialised companies investing money to make the creation possible. The majority of these investors in Europe are SMEs. There are no pan-European audiovisual companies. A European film (average budget 3-4m Euros) is financed by a myriad of producers, co-producers, local distributors, international distributors and sales agents, broadcasters, national support schemes, European funds and others. They all want a return on their investment. A whole professional sector that employs millions of people across Europe has developed this way.
New operators arriving in this market may not know where to go to get licenses for works. This can be an issue and is something that SAA is trying to get the audiovisual sector to work on. But the interlocutors are there. Traditional broadcasters negotiate and spend significant amounts of money for broadcast rights they think will guarantee them a return on their investment. Are new operators unhappy with the going rates?
Europe is not a harmonised continent. iTunes and Netflix are Luxembourg-based to take advantage of low taxation rates. No country in Europe wants harmonised taxation. VAT will not be fixed to the place of reception of a service until 2015. Many online operators launch in big markets first and move to smaller ones later. Mobile phone companies do not launch the same products in every market at the same time, there are no pan-European mobile operators, an item bought at the Fnac in Brussels cannot be taken back to the Fnac in Barcelona. Neither authors’ rights nor copyright are the problem here. Opening a service in a new country requires adapting marketing, content and language to the local market. These companies recognise differences in local demand and likely product profitability in a market and adapt.
We accept that some form of private copying harmonisation could be useful and we hope the Commission appointed mediator helps clarify this and reassure authors over the fair compensation that they are due. Sales of smart devices are exploding across Europe. Headphones are everywhere. The recent UK Music report showed how much value is brought to these portable devices by their ability to contain predominantly copied creative content. It is only right that the content creators are remunerated for copies that are made onto these and other devices via the levy system.
The future should be French people watching Polish films (dubbed or subtitled, I suppose) before listening to Spanish music and reading a Bulgarian book (translated too I guess). For some sectors it might be easier than others but in all cases creators need to be fairly remunerated for their work. This should also be an objective of the digital single market. We need to stimulate the growth of new accompanying industries that recognise the value of the content that is driving the modernisation of networks and telecommunications.