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"Territoriality will remain"


- At the Europa Distribution panel in Karovy Vary, experts discussed the controversial EU copyright reform

"Territoriality will remain"
From left to right: Julie-Jeanne Régnault, EFADs; Pavel Svoboda, European Parliament; Doris Pack, European Parliament; Bogdan Wenta, European Parliament; and Christine Eloy, Europa Distribution

The upcoming reform of the European copyright law has been shaking up the industry for months. If licensing on a territory-by-territory basis is no longer possible, the entire audiovisual industry will be at stake. EU proposals to reform the copyright framework and suspend the territoriality principle in favour of the digital single market would make the financing and distribution of independent films impossible. However, there seems to have been a decisive turn in the European Commission's attitude. “Territoriality will remain,” stated Pavel Svoboda, chair of the Committee on Legislative Affairs, European Parliament, at Europa Distribution's panel conference on European contents in the digital era at the 50th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.

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The European Commission is working on the strategy for the digital market and will come up with legislative proposals by the end of the year. The members of the parliamentary committee are filing their reports, but their decisions likely will not have any consequences in terms of territoriality, as Svoboda outlined. “Before we start battering a fence down, we have to ask why it was built in the first place.” The copyright framework needs to be adjusted, but it is essential to interfere only if necessary. “The film industry is a sensitive eco-system. It is crucial to find methods to achieve portability in the audiovisual sector without damaging territoriality. Geo-blocking is an instrument for maintaining territoriality.”

As a former professional athlete, Bogdan Wenta, member of the CULT Committee of the European Parliament, looks at the EU proposal from the perspective of a team player. In order to increase the circulation of European films in the EU, he suggested providing stronger support for distribution, as “70% of the funding fosters production, but only 10% goes to distribution and promotion”.

For Peter Ostrouchov, an expert on copyright law, it would be harmful for the EU to dismantle borders. “It contradicts the basic principle of the EU if the free movement of services becomes obligatory.” At this point, copyright does not affect contract law. “It is preferable to restrict contractual freedom.”

Film is a risky business, added Julie-Jeanne Régnault, board member of the EFADs. “If all the possibilities for private investors are cut, it will damage the financing and distribution of films.”

“Portability is not a problem,” declared Christine Eloy, general manager at Europa Distribution, who pointed out that in the eventuality that there is no geo-blocking anymore, Belgian distributors would not pick up a film like The Great Beauty [+see also:
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once it had already been released on VoD in France. “Cross-border access is the problem,” she said. In terms of film distribution, the single market will be a mess because the small distributor will disappear. “The audiovisual system is not linear; you can’t simplify it,” warned Eloy. The pan-European approach doesn’t work for the independent film business. “The EU consists of many different regions,” summed up Doris Pack, former chairwoman of the Committee on Culture and Education, European Parliament. “If this structure is going to disappear, it will affect our culture.”

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