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02.20.2015

Op-ed : "The César awards, the European Commission and the American Sniper" by Laure Kaltenbach and Olivier Le Guay

Beneath the red carpet of the César awards ceremony tonight, hell is paved with the good intentions of the European Commission, ready to sweep away copyright and financing territorial mechanisms of works, in the name of a single digital market. Let Barack Obama evaluate his. After the spotlights, the fight.

Op-ed previously published in french on the Huffingtonpost.fr

A legitimate time to celebrate cinema. In spite of polemics and digital prophets of ill omen, French cinema is in good shape. In the movie theaters, its 208 million ticket sales (+7,7%) are much above the average level of the last ten years (196,47 million). It has even reached a second record for 47 years (211,5 million tickets sold in 1967 and 217,2 million in 2011)! It shows some exportation dynamism by passing over the 100 million sold tickets threshold, being the second best year abroad for more than twenty years. Finally, regarding diversity, 14 French movies of various kinds (comedy, action, art film, animated movie…) have achieved more than a million cinema admissions abroad, despite the impact of piracy, which found last week in Netflix a powerful despiser. The SVoD service recently offered in France considers it to be four times better than in the United-States but also sees in it an obstacle to its development.

The theater remains at the heart of the valorization of cinema in the value chain. At the opposite of the screens’ invasion in our cinema “consumption”, the movie theater remains attractive thanks to a sector that constantly innovates; its evolution is one step ahead of e-consumers expectations, as a recent study by Kurt Salmon underlined. It is essentially – but not exclusively – in theaters that a movie gains visibility and reputation – what also boosts its appeal for piracy… This standing is at the heart of an economic model that strengthens its (pre)financing through all media that broadcast it under commercial agreements by territory and by channel: a chronology that contributes to the optimization of the works… We can love or criticize movies, their authors or actors, but the cultural anchoring and the resulting diversity make French cinema a strong asset of the “France brand”.

The territorial rights management at the heart of the European audiovisual financing. Even if, since its appointment in which roadmap “the copyright modernization in order to standardize the emergence of a single market of digital technologies” clearly figured, the European Commissioner for Digital Economy, Günther Oettinger, blows hot and cold by being in favor of authors’ remuneration while reaffirming the need for deterritorialization of rights, both being accused of slowing down – without any proof – the development of access to culture. The debate is only starting up. The Reda Report, named after the Pirate Party representative, released at the European Parliament on January 19th, says it all! It is immediately skewed by confusions and an asymmetrical approach. Incredible for a single market! Copyright never prevented anyone from the access or the availability of works, as witnessed by the European success of music platforms such as Deezer or Spotify, or audiovisual ones, such as CanalPlay or Netflix. In contrast, the rights commercial management by territory is the essential framework to prefinancing of cultural diversity in general, and of independent filmmaking in particular: up to more than 37% for Amour by Haneke or A Royal Affair by Arcel. Business law and copyright, territorial cultural specificity (if only with language) and distribution strategy must not be confused.

Bringing together all the beneficiaries of the value chain to financing. Finally, if the European Commission pleads for a single access market for the consumer, why wouldn’t it join a unified system for authors’ remuneration, currently different in every country, and why would it exclude the stakeholders – tools, screens and digital platforms manufacturers who use creation as a loss leader? The single market cannot develop on the sole opportunist consideration of the “e-consumer”. This one-way perspective little anticipates collaborative economy or the hybridization of economic models, funding sources and stakeholders, which constitute the dynamism of financing of tomorrow’s creation and innovation. Without copyright, the author cannot live by its work.

In the name of a single market without constraint, let’s not play the game of those who aim at benefiting from European creation without sharing. History stammers. After the financing mechanisms of creation that it has always tried to counter, American administration charges Europe with protectionism while it tries to impose codes of good fiscal or ethical conducts on the use of personal data! Barack Obama abruptly affirmed on February 17th on the website Recode.net : “In defense of Google and Facebook, sometimes the European response here is more commercially driven than anything else (…) Their companies – the service providers who, you know, can’t compete with ours, are essentially trying to set up some roadblocks for our companies to operate effectively there.” The warning is clear: Internet, this is us! Personal data and creation should come back in a way or another in the free-trade agreement between Europe and the United-States.

Les Combattants or Timbuktu. The world of culture and cinema must convince the European Commission that copyright of every member-country of the Union and the personal digital prints of its citizens are not a commodity like the others. Happy César day!