What do you think of, when you think of copyright? A tool to recognise and reward artists? Or a tool to punish and withhold material?
For me the answer should clearly be the first. But all too often, in the digital age, it is seen as the second.
Our current copyright system is not succeeding in its objectives. I agree we should fight against piracy. But it’s becoming increasingly hard to legally enforce copyright rules, a battle that costs millions of dollars with little signs of victory.
Meanwhile, artists continue to struggle by on a pittance, as the copyright system fails to reward them properly. I was shocked at the number of artists – whether they’re writers, painters, photographers, musicians, whatever – whose earnings are under the paltry figure of 1000 euros a month, less than the minimum wage. That’s pretty devastating, for the artists themselves and for Europe as a whole. Because the creative sector is what we’re good at in Europe – something that could really help us grow in the future, economically and culturally.
It’s not for us to dictate the best business models. But we should have a framework which permits innovation and puts artists at its heart. A system which does not straitjacket art, but which allows new ideas to thrive—for distribution and use as well as production. Because the business models can and should be as creative as the art itself. New areas like cloud computing could transform what it means to buy or distribute an artwork – we need a system flexible enough to respond.
But at the moment, we’re not flexible or responsive enough. Too often the response to innovative ideas – to ideas like Netflix or iTunes – is simply to be paralysed with fear and inaction. Spotify just reached us here in Belgium – a whole three years after it launched elsewhere in the EU! Ideas shouldn’t take so long to spread within a single market.
To do this, we need to make the most use of new technology – because new applications like a repertoire database could help artists.
And we need to look at the legal framework too. There are lots of potential ideas out there for new systems of recognition and reward – but too often they are killed stone dead by rigid, pre-digital legislation. Meanwhile legislation can discriminate against innovative forms of distribution – for example, e-books don’t benefit from the same VAT reduced rates as “physical” books. I find this pretty hard to explain.
The life of an artist has always been tough – the crisis has made it tougher. But I have been clear that we need to go back to basics and put artists back at the centre, not only of copyright law, but our whole policy on culture and growth.