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Culture in the Digital Era – Time for Renewed Business Models

Submitted by on 12 Jul 2012 – 12:21

Malika Benarab-AttouBy Malika Benarab-Attou MEP

“The Internet has unleashed an extraordinary possibility for many to participate in the process of building and cultivating a culture that reaches far beyond local boundaries” according to Pr. Lawrence Lessig from Harvard Law School.

But in order to take the path towards better access to culture, we should first of all move away from the outdated economic model that the majority of EU governments would like to preserve.

In recent years, the entertainment industries have been complaining about dramatic losses in revenue due to online piracy. Indeed, advances in technology have given consumers alternative options to get access to cultural content, but whether sanctions against peer-to-peer file sharing are relevant and sustainable in the long run remains to be proved. Yet such sanctions have been used as an instrument to protect companies from drops in CD and DVD sales.

Downloading for personal use does not necessarily hamper copyright holders from getting remuneration.

Several studies, such as the Dutch one Up and downs – Economic and cultural effects of file sharing on music, films and games (2009) or the Hargreaves Review of United Kingdom Intellectual Property Rights Policies (2011) demonstrate that people eventually spend the money saved by downloading for free on culture anyway, like concert-tickets and other entertainment products. Even the French High Authority for Transmission of Creative Works and Copyright Protection on the Internet (Hadopi) published last year the result of a study on the behaviour of French internet users. Quite striking, the users who declared they download without paying, spend slightly more than the average on cultural goods and are fewer than those who declare no spending at all.[1]

Why? The impact of file sharing on culture is a complex question to address.

The answer is certainly much more differentiated than the current monolithic rhetoric suggests. It is true that some use sharing networks as a substitute for purchasing content, but some use them to sample music before purchasing it, or to get access to content that is no longer sold. Many use sharing networks to get access to content that is no longer in copyright, or to content which the rightholder wants to give away for free.

Yet, France and the UK implemented the three strikes’ graduated response without taking the diversity of uses into account, let alone the full impact on file sharing on the cultural economy as a whole.

And in general, EU countries take a hard line on copyright legislation to prevent works from falling out of copyright into the public domain. Last September, the Council extended copyright protection for performers and record producers from 50 to 70 years after the death of the last rightholder, whether it is the author of the lyrics or the musical composer. Extending the term of protection in this way is like taking 20 years of cultural heritage hostage and locking it away from free public access and use.

In a similar vein, the European Commission announced in May 2011 a proposal for a directive on ‘certain permitted uses of orphan works’ which does not focus on liberating works which are held hostage under copyright rules. Instead efforts are made to ensure rightholders are compensated for being re-united with works which have been abandoned. According to US Law Professor Lydia Loren, “copyright protection is obstructing distribution, not enabling or facilitating it… In addressing the hostage work problem, we should be focused on a solution that reduces the waste by removing the barriers to non-owner distribution”.

We agree, and hope that Parliament will join us in giving all citizens a better access to our cultural heritage.