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We need copyright reform so Belgians can watch cricket, says MEP

It's vitally important for cultural diversity, you see

Battle lines are forming over the EU’s promised copyright reforms, with Brussels’ lobbying machine going into overdrive.

On Thursday, the European Film Agency Directors (EFAD), a network of directors of 28 film agencies based inside the European Union, begged the EU Commission to drop its plans for a major copyright overhaul, saying “the current copyright framework is fit for purpose”.

The organisation also said that “licensing on a territory-by-territory basis is an essential element in the mix for raising finance for audiovisual productions. It is also a means for optimal distribution of works, adapted to local audiences”.

This support for geoblocking will be anathema to EU digi-veep Andrus Ansip, who has repeatedly said it is one of the biggest barriers to a digital single market.

Julia Reda, the Pirate Party MEP who produced a report on the functioning of the EU’s current copyright law and found it manifestly not fit for purpose, also disagrees.

“Copyright protectionism risks barring Europeans from the emerging practices of transformative creation that open cultural creation up to the broad population and not just those with a profit motive and a publishing contract,” she said.

“How does it preserve cultural diversity when Belgians have no way to legally watch cricket,” she continued.

“[Or] when ethnic minorities in border regions, travellers, migrants, exchange students, etc. are blocked from enjoying cultural works from their region of origin or recommending it to others? When French citizens on the island Réunion [who are assigned IP addresses registered to Africa] can’t access a lot of works from France,” Reda said.

Not all MEPs are on her side. Reda’s reference to Réunion is likely targeted at French MEPs who are, broadly speaking, against large-scale reform.

Sabine Verheyen, a Christian Democrat MEP from Germany, ridiculed Reda's analogy: “After all, I can’t buy Finnish bread in any German supermarket or bakery. Far too few people here would buy it, so the market doesn’t offer it to me. And you don’t see me demanding that the European Commission bloody-well make that product available to me!”

By comparison, EFAD’s argument is actually more reasoned.

“Territorial licensing is crucial to ensure cultural diversity,” said an EFAD spokesman. “Removing it would imply a dangerous standardisation of creation because only the biggest and strongest audiovisual actors would survive.”

The group urged the European institutions to “avoid any big-bang policy changes” and instead opt “for a gradual solution developed in close cooperation with the relevant stakeholders”.

Ah, stakeholders. Enter the digital business lobby: “We would like to express our concern with regard to the lack of diversity of expert speakers and the corresponding representation of views. In the digital age, copyright impacts a great variety of stakeholders. Apart from established copyright industries and authors, it is of great relevance to citizens, consumers, cultural heritage institutions, libraries, researchers, universities and the Internet industries. It is also of fundamental importance to creators who are taking advantage of new, digital opportunities and who are not represented by traditional copyright industries,” said another letter to the EU parliament, signed by a broad coalition of, er, stakeholders including German IT industry lobbying outfit BITKOM, the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA), Copyright for Creativity (C4C), DigitalEurope, OpenForum Europe and EDRi.

Meanwhile, the Society of Audiovisual Authors (SAA) is due to meet Digital Commissioner Gunther H-dot Oettinger later this week. The group is due to present its position paper on audiovisual authors’ rights and remuneration next Monday. ®

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