Publishers Association chief executive Richard Mollet has warned that the new European Commission's drive to impose a digital single market risks undermining Europe's cultural diversity and will play into the hands of US-based platform companies.
Jean-Claude Juncker's new commission, which formally took over at the start of this month, has moved copyright into the Digital Economy and Society unit, under commissioner Gunther Oettinger.
Oettinger has vowed to start work on drafting a new Europe copyright law straight away, calling existing legislation "out of date" and saying it "does not fit with the digital world".
Giving a keynote speech at the Westminster Media Forum earlier today (Tuesday 4th November), Mollet told delegates: "Publishers favour there being a single market – both digital and physical – in the EU; and titles are licensed on a pan-European basis almost universally. But these markets need to develop organically and freely, rather than be imposed or directed from above.
"The new Commission, with its stated aim of imposing a digital single market on all creators in the EU, has its priorities the wrong way around. The result of a top down removal of territorial licensing across Europe would be an erosion of diversity as markets became homogenised, and a further weakening of copyright."
On cultural diversity, Mollet questioned the priorities of the Commission, referring to a comment made by EC vice president Ansip on Twitter earlier this month, where he stated: "Copyright reform will be a key part of the digital single market but taking e.g. cultural diversity into account too." The PA chief said that merely taking cultural diversity "into account" was a bit like saying that energy policy would take "into account" the impact on climate change, arguing that it was "worrying" that the Commission "sees the rich diverse cultural heritage of European countries as a mere contributory factor in developing its digital policies, rather than as a paramount principle which should be central to its aims and defended at every turn."
Mollet said the best way - "I would argue the only way" - to guarantee cultural diversity is through ensuring intellectual property laws are respected and supported in whichever language the creator decides to market their works.
He also questioned whether the Commission may also be overstating the demand for its single market among its member nation populations, pointing out that, according to a Eurobarometer study published last November, only 31% of Europeans have read a book from another European country over a 12-month period, even where titles are available on a pan-European basis. "This tells us that to a very large extent, the populations of Member States are most content with their own content," he noted. "This suggests that there is at best a tension and at worst a paradox in the Commission looking to impose a uniform digital single market AND to promote cultural diversity."
Mollet also warned that the new policy would play into the hands of US-based platform companies. He said: "Moreover, imposing pan-European licensing is also a policy which will play straight into the hands of the very companies which the Commission claims it wishes not to help. Commissioner Oettinger said last week that he did not want EU creators to become the mere component-suppliers to the US tech giants' supply chains. Amen to that. Yet, if the Commission tells creators that the only way they will be allowed to do business in Europe is through simultaneous pan-EU licensing, then the clear beneficiaries will only be those companies which are capable of fulfilling the orders in all 28 markets simultaneously. In other words, the incumbent American internet intermediaries."
Mollet concluded: "As publishers and creative businesses across Europe are already demonstrating, the digital marketplace can and will be a source of growth to the wider economy. But this is only possible if intellectual property rights are respected – which is to say not infringed – and are supported – which is to say not eroded by radical changes to copyright law."