Pranesh Prakash on Tue, 22 Nov 2011 15:26:30 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Neelie Kroes slams digital copyright excesses and enforcement agenda at Forum d'Avignon

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Blog entry titled "Is Copyright Working?"

Full text of Neelie Kroes's speech:

Neelie Kroes
Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital

Who feeds the artist?

Forum d'Avignon

19 November 2011
Avignon, France

Reference:  SPEECH/11/777

The creative sector is a unique source for growth, both economic and
social. And it's something we do well in Europe. The current winner of
the Oscar for Best Picture; the bestselling album in the US this year; 7
out of the last 10 winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature: what do
they have in common? They all come from the EU.

This is essential to our image abroad, and essential to our economic
future. And if we want it to stay this way, we must be able to support
those who create art. We must be concerned about the fate of Europe's
struggling artists and creators. Art feeds the soul. But who feeds the

Often, this debate focuses on copyright, especially enforcing copyright.
But this isn't the whole story.

For a moment, let's take a step back from the tools, and remember what
we are trying to achieve. Legally, we want a well-understood and
enforceable framework. Morally, we want dignity, recognition and a
stimulating environment for creators. Economically, we want financial
reward so that artists can benefit from their hard work and be
incentivised to create more.

I am an unconditional supporter of these objectives.

But let's ask ourselves, is the current copyright system the right and
only tool to achieve our objectives? Not really, I'm afraid. We need to
keep on fighting against piracy, but legal enforceability is becoming
increasingly difficult; the millions of dollars invested trying to
enforce copyright have not stemmed piracy. Meanwhile citizens
increasingly hear the word copyright and hate what is behind it. Sadly,
many see the current system as a tool to punish and withhold, not a tool
to recognise and reward.

Speaking of economic reward: if that is the aim of our current copyright
system, we're failing here too.

1000 euros a month is not much to live off. Often less than the minimum
wage. But most artists, and not only the young ones at the early stages
of their career, have to do so. Half the fine artists in the UK, half
the "professional" authors in Germany, and, I am told, an incredible
97.5% of one of the biggest collecting society's members in Europe,
receive less than that paltry payment of 1000 euros a month for their
copyright works. Of course, the best-paid in this sector earn a lot, and
well done to them. But at the bottom of the pyramid are a whole mass of
people who need independent means or a second job just to survive.

This is a devastatingly hard way to earn a living. The crisis will only
make this worse, as public and private spending on arts, so often seen
as discretionary, feels the squeeze. This must be a worry to one of the
most valuable and unique sectors in Europe: it is certainly a worry to me.

We need to go back to basics and put the artist at the centre, not only
of copyright law, but of our whole policy on culture and growth. In
times of change, we need creativity, out-of-the-box thinking: creative
art to overcome this difficult period and creative business models to
monetise the art. And for this we need flexibility in the system, not
the straitjacket of a single model. The platforms, channels and business
models by which content is produced, distributed and used can be as
varied and innovative as the content itself.

ICT can help here. In all sorts of sectors, ICT can help artists connect
with their audience, directly and cheaply. And it can help audiences
find and enjoy material that suits their specific needs, interests and

And ICT can help in other ways too, supporting a system of recognition
and reward. A Global Repertoire database to find out what belongs to
whom . Tracking technologies, to permit a totally transparent process
for artists and intermediaries to find out who is looking at what
artwork when and to distribute revenues accordingly. Digitisation, to
make artworks available for instant transmission to distant fans.

Look at Cloud computing: it presents a totally new way of purchasing,
delivering and consuming cultural works - music, books, films - which
will certainly raise new questions about how licensing should function
in an optimal way.

It's not just about technology: smart legislation can help, too. We need
to find the right rules, the right model to feed art, and feed artists.
We need the legal framework to be flexible. This is my recipe, my
commandment, my bumper-sticker to nurture creation. The digital world
changes quickly, and if allowed to do so can permit creativity in all
stages of the chain. So we shouldn't prescribe a particular model, but
set a framework allowing many new models to flourish.

In particular, we should make it as easy as possible to license, not
obstruct that process while making sure that the system efficiently
secures the interests of artists themselves. This is what we are doing
at the Commission with our future legislative proposal on collective
rights management.

But as I said, it's not only about copyright legislation. Take tax, for
example. Isn't it just common-sense to think that eBooks should benefit
from the same reduced VAT rates as physical books? The legal regime –
the EU's own, I admit – makes it illegal to do that. Not just
discouraged, but illegal. Personally, I find this very difficult to
explain. Thankfully, my colleague Algirdas Semeta is preparing a new
strategy on VAT. This subject will certainly be debated.

Another example is the audiovisual industry. I know how important
"windowing" is for the industry under current business models and I
don't want to take decisions for the business, it's not my job. As new
ways of watching films develop in the market, binding legislation
dictating the sequence and period of release windows seems inflexible –
and may make it harder, not easier, to provide and purchase content

A system of rewarding art, in all its dimensions, must be flexible and
adaptable enough to cope with these new environments. Or else we will
kill innovation and damage artists' interests.

These are just a few examples of rigid legislation from the pre-digital
era. There are many new ideas out there – ideas, for example, like
extended collective licensing as practised in Scandinavia, or other
ideas that seek to both legitimise and monetise certain uses of works.
Are these ideas the right ones to achieve our goals? I don't know. But
too often we can't even try them out because of some old set of rules
made for a different age – whether it is the Berne Convention, the
legislation exceptions and limitations on the VAT Directive or some
other current law. So new ideas which could benefit artists are killed
before they can show their merit, dead on arrival. This needs to change.

I can't set out for you now what the model should be and indeed it's not
the kind of model that should be developed from the centre. Rather we
need to create a framework in which a model – or indeed several models –
can develop organically, flexibly, in ways that support artists.

I see how some European stakeholders see with horror the arrival of
Netflix, or the expansion of iTunes. We need to react, not to be
paralysed by fear. Let's take chances. As Zygmunt Bauman put it, "the
function of culture is not to satisfy existing needs, but to create new

So that's my answer: it's not all about copyright. It is certainly
important, but we need to stop obsessing about that. The life of an
artist is tough: the crisis has made it tougher. Let's get back to
basics, and deliver a system of recognition and reward that puts artists
and creators at its heart.

Let's not wait for a financial crisis in the creative sector to happen
to finally adopt the right tools to tackle it.

Thank you.

- -- 
Pranesh Prakash
Programme Manager
Centre for Internet and Society
W: | T: +91 80 40926283

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