Copyright is Failing, Who Feeds the Artists? Asks EU Commissioner

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European Commissioner for Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes delivered an inspiring speech at the Forum d'Avignon this weekend. The Commissioner noted that the current path of increased enforcement as put forward by the copyright monopoly is not the right one. Copyright should protect artists instead of corporations, and technology is not something to restrict but to make use of, she argued.

neelieEuropean Commissioner for Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes has once again spoken out against the so-called copyright monopolies.

Last year at the Forum d’Avignon she noted that if media companies want to tackle piracy, they should look beyond “corporatist self-interest.”

During this year’s speech titled Who Feeds the Artists, Kroes went even further by admitting that the current path copyright is taking is the wrong one.

Kroes started by saying that it is essential that creativity is recognized and stimulated in Europe. She agreed that artists have to be rewarded financially for their efforts, but doubts whether the current copyright system is the right tool for that.

“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,” Kroes said.

“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 recognize and reward.

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

Kroes explained that most artists in Europe can’t make a decent living from what they do, and gave the example that 97.5 percent of German musicians earn less than 1000 euros a month. Implicitly, she hereby argues that the restrictive copyright system we have now is benefiting multi-million euro companies, but not necessarily the artists at large as recent examples illustrate.

The commissioner wants that to change.

“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,” she said.

“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.”

Being the Digital Chief of Europe, Kroes sees an important role for the technology sector in helping out artists to get the most out of their careers.

“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 tastes,” she said.

“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.”

Aside from using technology to benefit, instead of repress, Kroes says the industry has to reconsider whether their old business models are still in tune with the present days and age. Licensing issues in the music industry and delaying the distribution of movies and TV-shows through windowing are two examples she highlights in this regard.

“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,” Kroes noted.

As a take-home message, Kroes says that the key issue is to provide all the tools to make sure that artists can flourish. In other words, do what is necessary to ensure that artists make a decent income, instead of protecting the revenues of major companies.

“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.”


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