Film, TV Industry Sounds Red Alert Over New E.U. Copyright Proposals

John Hopewell

Europe and Hollywood industries are expressing their alarm at a proposed overhaul of European copyright law that they fear will further erode the territorial licensing system their businesses count on for revenue.

The measures were unveiled by European Union President Jean-Claude Juncker in a speech Wednesday. The industry will likely have little quarrel with some of the changes, such as a proposal to force YouTube to adopt technology to automatically detect copyrighted works.

Of huge concern, however, is a proposed extension to digital platforms of existing copyrights which already facilitate cross-border transmission of TV programming for foreign cable and satellite operators.

Currently, cable operators in E.U. countries are allowed to re-transmit programming from other nations’ broadcasters whose satellite transmission footprint falls over their territory. Cable operators in Belgium, for example, are able to capture BBC signals and can re-transmit BBC programming as long as they clear rights with a collecting society and remunerate the BBC.

The European Commission argues that 49% of E.U. internet users access music or audiovisual content online. However, “E.U. rules facilitating the clearance of rights for radio and TV programs by satellite transmissions and cable re-transmissions do not extend to digital and online transmissions or retransmissions,” the commission said in a statement Wednesday.

“It is therefore particularly difficult for broadcasters to make their content available on the Internet for users based in other E.U. Member States,” it added.

As part of the E.U.’s unified digital market drive, changes to E.U. copyright rules would extend the system of rights clearance for traditional satellite and cable to the online world, to broadcasters’ live-streaming and catch-up digital services, with rights being cleared centrally by collecting societies. Broadcasters would only be required to clear rights to programs in the TV operators’ country of origin.

“The move will facilitate the ability of broadcasters to offer these online services outside their countries of origin,” said Guy Bisson at Ampere Analysis.

The regulation is no different from that in place for linear channels. But when it is added to other recent developments, such as Paramount’s capitulation to pressure from European anti-trust authorities, the danger is that territory-by-territory licensing, the backbone of Europe’s film and TV industries, will suffer “a death by one thousand cuts,” Bisson added.

The International Federation of Film Producers Assn. (FIAPF), whose members include the MPAA, went further.

Benoit Ginisty, FIAPF chief representative, said in a statement Wednesday: “With the regulation proposing to extend the principle of country-of-origin for licensing ancillary rights to broadcasters as announced today, the European Commission proposes a change which will have harmful effects for employment and economic growth in the film and TV sector in Europe.”

The statement added: “The legislative proposal will reduce private investment in film and TV production in Europe and will lead to more difficulties in distributing films and TV programs outside national borders. The result will be reduced choice of content online for European audiences.”

According to the Commission’s proposals outlined Wednesday, producers are able to opt out of allowing their film and TV content to be readily available on catch-up services in the same language all over Europe. Even if the opt-out is waived and the online content is made available, the fact that it cannot be dubbed or subtitled by foreign online operators COULD serve as some kind of barrier for its consumption.

That said, what concerns the industry, however, are practical considerations. One case in point would be that of a producer, negotiating in a weak position the sale of his rights with his home territory broadcaster in order to finance his film, meeting demands by that broadcaster that online rights to his film be available for online replay on online services in the E.U. outside the home territory of the broadcaster.

That availability could see online platforms programming the film before its potential theatrical release abroad in the E.U.

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