Sunday

23rd Feb 2020

Brussels examines where to put marker on copyright enforcement

  • The European Commission will tackle the thorny issue of online copyright later this year (Photo: Douglas Heriot)

Danish band Efterklang recently played to a 500-strong audience in Vienna. Figures show, however, that they have sold just 50 albums in Austria over the last year.

As a generation of internet users grows up used to illegally downloading music and filesharing, artists are wondering how they can be compensated for their work.

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Efterklang's Rasmus Stolberg says: "Today, I don't see any logical arguments for why you shouldn't pay for the work of artists."

It was different a few years ago, he says, when filesharers could well argue that there were limited options if you did not want your music on CD or vinyl or if you wanted to sample music before you bought it.

"But as the market has changed and the way music is promoted has changed I see less and less reason for why you need to download entire albums for free," said Stolberg, whose band's latest album Magic Chairs - winner of the European Independent Album of the Year award - was 10 months in the making.

While stressing he doesn't mind "people testing things out [for free]", he asked whether musicians should simply have to accept that the third string in their revenue stream - the others being composer rights and concerts - no longer exists.

Earning a living from concerts alone is not enough, said Stolberg, with the band having given 350 live performances in the last three years: "You need to play a lot of concerts and you need to make a lot of money from every concert and when we don't go on tour we spend close to a year writing and recording. That means I have to make money for two years when I go on tour."

"I would like to hear some better arguments for why people actually shouldn't pay for the work of artists," he added.

It is an issue that interests a lot of people. Not least the European Commission, which is due to publish proposals on intellectual property rights later this year.

Among those in the discussion are artists wanting just rewards for their work; internet service providers (ISPs) who will likely be at the frontline in enforcing respect of copyright and digital rights campaigners who argue against restriction on internet use.

Strong on enforcement

The highly complex issue has slowly moved up the political agenda in Brussels as recently-enacted national laws in UK and France seek to punish repeat illegal downloaders by respectively blacklisting them or eventually cutting off their internet access.

Late last year, the European Parliament in a non-binding resolution suggested it wants to see the European Commission go in the same direction, passing a resolution in favour of an EU law that would pursue those who violate intellectual property rights.

Since then Michel Barnier, commissioner in charge of the internal market, has indicated he will propose a multi-territorial rights system (allowing for pan-European sales of music online) while pushing for ISPs to police the internet for copyright abusers.

"The Commission does have a role to play in ensuring that the European legislative framework allows you to be remunerated for your work, to serve one, two or 27 territories of your choice, and to enforce your rights when they are infringed," he told a music industry audience in Cannes earlier this year.

The music industry is following the process minutely. It points to a study published last year that showed the EU's creative industries most negatively impacted by piracy, including the music industry, saw retail revenue losses of €10 billion and losses of more than 185,000 jobs largely due to internet piracy.

"The use of music is going through the roof. Consumption rates have never been so high. Yet because of the huge proportion of use that it is unauthorized, revenues are going through the floor, " said Helen Smith, executive chair at Impala, an independent music companies association.

She noted that Impala is hoping for "a very, very strong stance on enforcement."

France's three-strike 'Hadopi' law, which authorises the eventual cutting off of pirates' internet access, is seen as a good way to go by Impala as it has both a "deterrent" element, but also seeks to grow the digital market by subsidising a music card for young people to encourage them to migrate to legal sites.

But not all artists agree that such a form of enforcement is either the right way to go or that it will work.

Vasilis Panagiotopoulos, a Brussels-based artist manager of two indie bands (Rökkurró and Film), argues that for lesser-known artists illegal downloading can be a boon: "For small bands it's in their interest to get their tracks out there."

He questions the wisdom of such "bullying" laws as the Hadopi law or the Digital Economy Act in the UK and points to online platforms such as Bandcamp.com, that allow independent bands to design their own webpage to sell or give away their music, as ways for artists to make money.

"Music is out there. It is always going to be out there and legislation is about five to seven years behind the actual technology. If they tackle this, the geeks are going to come up with something else."

Impala's Helen Smith agrees that artists may want to have their work downloaded for free but they still want ultimate control.

"That's how most artists start out. They give their music away but there comes a point where that artist might decide that's not the road they want to go down. It is about freedom of choice. The artists and team around them should be able to choose what they do for free."

Read more in the EUobserver April FOCUS on Digital Agenda.

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