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EU’s copyright changes can be cause for cheer

Compact Media’s CEO, David Johnson, argues last month’s communication from the European Commission on new copyright laws should offer “cautious optimism” to the international television industry.

It would be an understatement to say that 2015 was a busy year for the creative industry. Not only did the pace of change from new business and technology models continue to accelerate, but the regulatory environment in Europe saw an alarming number of new proposals and initiatives with time consuming consultation processes that have left us with long reading lists and short time to respond.

David Johnson

David Johnson

However, in this new year there is cause for cautious optimism that the regulators have listened and taken on board the concerns raised.

Last month’s communication from the European Commission on its proposals for a modern, more European copyright framework resulted in collective sighs of relief from the industry.

After months of concern and intensive lobbying, the Commission appears to have moved away from a position which could have resulted in cataclysmic change for the sector, sweeping away the existing territory based business models that the industry relies on so heavily in order to pay for new content and creativity.

Earlier last year it looked like President Juncker’s proposals for a Digital Single Market across the EU would restrict the ability of creators of audio-visual content to sell their works on a territorial basis. While many people sympathised with the higher ideals of a level playing field across the EU the potential threat to the financial viability of the creative sector resulted in stiff opposition from film and TV producers.

Fortunately, the Commission has moved considerably from its original proposals and, while it still takes the view that the current copyright framework is a barrier to the Digital Single Market, it acknowledges the fact that the financing of new works is “to a large extent, based on territorial licensing combined with territorial exclusivity granted to individual distributors or service providers”.

The Commission is still keen to modernise EU copyright rules as each of the 28 member states has a separate system of copyright law. The Commission views the current position as a potential block to Europe’s competitiveness internationally but has also seen the potential dangers in root and branch reform and is now talking in terms of incremental change rather than revolution.

So, whilst the war has not yet been won, the latest Communication indicates that the Commission appears to appreciate that the harm which could have been caused to the audio-visual sector had they pushed ahead with their proposals.

The focus has now switched to a proposal to regulate the portability of online content services so that subscribers to legitimate services in one state can continue to have access to them when they are temporarily in another member state.

The Commission considers that consumer demand for the cross-border portability of online content is considerable and will continue to grow. Cynics say that this proposal is driven by the demands of the commissioners themselves to view content from their home states while resident in Brussels and there is no genuine popular demand for this change.

Nonetheless, the Commission has now published draft regulations which will be directly applicable in all member states as of June this year. The regulations catch online content services, which are provided for payment of money either directly or indirectly as well as free services where the subscriber’s member state of residence is verified by the service provider.

Unusually, the regulations applies to contracts entered into and rights acquired before the date of application of the rules. For Brits, there really will be no more excuses for not keeping up with the latest from Albert Square, Coronation Street or even Essex while you are trying to chill out under that European sunshine.