A key spokesperson for the EC believes it’s time to look past draconian copyright laws on audio-visual media and look at new models that favour the artist and consumer.
European Commission Vice President for the Digital Agenda Nelie Kroes was addressing French public think tank Forum D’Avignon when she made her controversial comments.
She dismissed governments’ attempts to stop online piracy as a waste of money that has turned the public against enforcement.
"Sadly, many see the current system as a tool to punish and withhold, not a tool to recognise and reward."
While the system has failed to stem piracy she also notes that it has failed the artists too.
"Half the fine artists in the UK, half the "professional" authors in Germany, and, I am told, an incredible 97.5% of one of the biggest collecting society’s members in Europe, receive less than that paltry payment of €1000 a month for their copyright works," she said.
She advocates for a rethink of the whole system, with greater flexibility "not the straitjacket of a single model."
Critics have long lambasted the music and film industries for clinging to outdated distribution models – and their subsequent pursuit of legal remedy – rather than embracing the digital change as most other industries have had to.
"It’s not just about technology: smart legislation can help, too. We need to find the right rules, the right model to feed art, and feed artists. We need the legal framework to be flexible," she said.
She also raised some interesting points regarding VAT on electronic goods, noting that e-books aren’t taxed – while their physical counterparts are – a huge tax loss for the EU in a rapidly rising new market.
She also attacks another film policy dear to its heart – release windows. Film studios release products in a very set timeline to maximise revenues – Cinema (timed across the various arbitrary regions), DVD rental, Pay-per-view, DVD retail and finally Free-to-Air/online.
Recently filmmakers such as Steven Soderbergh have challenged the model, such as his film Bubble, which was released on cable and at the cinema simultaneously. Many theatre chains pulled support for the film as punishment for bucking the system.
Kroes appears to be advocating for a rethink here too.
"Binding legislation dictating the sequence and period of release windows seems inflexible – and may make it harder, not easier, to provide and purchase content legally," she said.
The model has long been criticised in the globalised, digital world as much of cinema’s physical constraints, such as shipping film reels and marketing often occurs on an international scale, especially through the internet.
For example, there is a far great interest for an Australian youth to download a film in his homeland rather than waiting, sometimes up to a year, for a US or UK new release film to arrive at the cinema for no reason other than a film industry stuck in its old ways.
Kroes also wants any legislative changes to look at existing experimental models – such as extended collective licensing as practised in Scandinavia.
"Are these ideas the right ones to achieve our goals? I don’t know. But too often we can’t even try them out because of some old set of rules made for a different age… New ideas which could benefit artists are killed before they can show their merit, dead on arrival. This needs to change," she said.
During the Napster trials in 2001, a consortium of 18 copyright law professors at US universities produced a still valid criticism of the use of copyright law in the modern world.
"This is not the sort of challenge that copyright law is designed to redress. The district court’s ruling would ban a new technology in order to protect existing business models, and would invoke copyright to stifle innovation, not to promote it."
The issues remain the same 10 years later.
Previously unknown artists have been discovered using digital distribution methods, such as Lily Allen, Nicki Minaj and Justin Bieber.
Similarly, large artists such as Radiohead have benefited. The band’s 2001 album ‘Kid A’ was leaked and downloaded millions of times before its release date. When released it still went straight to the top of the Billboard Top 200 despite no radio airplay or singles – the staple of the old distribtion method. The band now distributes their albums themselves online, cutting out the middle man, and working with distribution companies as they see fit.
Even the iPod was hunted in its early days. The industry accused Steve Jobs of encouraging piracy and forced him to ‘lock in’ each iPod to an individual’s music library. This half measure was circumvented immediately. iTunes is now considered the model for digital distribution in the post-CD world, and has a near unassailable lead over its competitors.