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Günther Oettinger • Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society

“The starting point is the digital revolution”


- BERLIN 2015: The Berlinale served as the perfect venue for Günther Oettinger, Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, to discuss copyright reform and the digital single market

Günther Oettinger  • Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society

At the Berlinale, Günther Oettinger, the newly appointed Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, met with members of the European film industry for the first time. Among the key issues discussed were copyright reform and the digital single market in Europe. 

Cineuropa: The EU is preparing a Europe-wide reform of copyright, but copyright law is very different in the various European countries. How can you bring that down to a single common denominator without destroying cultural diversity?
Günther Oettinger:
We don’t want to Europeanise and centralise the whole copyright issue. But initiators can be protected the best way in Europe, in a European way. Some national rules are ignored by market players that operate outside of Europe. Therefore, we are preparing a copyright for the digital sector that can be enforced by law. The German intellectual property right is basically null and void because it is not respected by Google. That’s why our digital single market is our strong point. Companies that want to operate in Europe have to respect the rules, and this could also include a digital copyright law.

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How can you ensure that all participants will be included?
We have plenty of hearings and consider the genuine concerns of all the players across the whole value chain: from the initiator, publisher, provider and collecting societies up to the consumer.

What is the imminent schedule for the copyright law?
In the upcoming weeks, we will talk to all the participants at various round tables and come up with a legislative proposal in summer or autumn, which will be discussed in public again. Afterwards, the Council and the Parliament can debate formal legislation.

The European film industry generates a major part of its gains in segmented markets. If the territories and national borders will disappear as part of the single-market policy, only huge corporations can survive. How is that consistent with the EU principles of supporting small and medium-sized businesses? Can transnational enterprises generate the same gains as national companies?
The starting point is not politics, but a digital revolution. There is no longer a German market, a French market and a Polish market, but rather the global market. The younger generation does not watch a news show at 8pm anymore, but rather creates its own programme or prefers other content on Netflix. We have to react to the digital revolution, which affects the users and market participants of today and tomorrow. Our goal is to maintain the net product in Europe, and this also includes the SMEs. We don’t want to introduce the single market with a sledgehammer approach. Therefore, we are in talks with the film associations in order to maintain the added value.It is crucial that it is not politics that is aiming for change, but rather due to the technical changes that we see a demand for action.

There have been several efforts by the EU Commission to get rid of the theatrical windows, as in the case of the Cinema Communication, for example. Is it a long-term goal to give them up in favour of the single market?
We should keep all the funding principles that we can. But if we look at it the other way around, we should accept the technical development that is going to happen. By being at the Berlin International Film Festival as well as at Cannes, I am showing that I value the future of European film. This is about employment and cultural identity, which we want to keep but not Americanise.

It is already difficult to refinance European movies due to lower TV sales, minimal VoD revenues and a huge level of overproduction. Shouldn’t it be a top priority to maintain the distribution chain in order to make sure that the films can be refinanced?
For this reason, we will continue film funding for sure, on a national and on a European level. Furthermore, we will audit how VoD can be part of the revenue chain, with regard to the Audiovisual Media Services Directive. It is not yet clear if that will happen through the charging of a levy, or who will be responsible for it. We are reacting to technical changes and want to maintain the added value as much as we can. But I can’t guarantee that for every one of the over 1,000 films per year. Nevertheless, it has to remain our goal, to guarantee diversity.

Will there be any funding measures put in place for the economic sectors that lose their economic foundation due to globalisation? Are there any dead spots left in the IT business that can be filled by European enterprises?
We should not have a chip on our shoulder. After all, there are more Europeans than Americans. With a clear strategy, we have the chance to win on the digital market. Being small doesn’t have to be a disadvantage. We have to force the Americans to follow our rules, and we need to become better. Amazon, Google and Facebook could also have been created in Europe, but we overslept. If you do that, you can get annoyed and have to start all over again. The bright side is that the market is not very stable. Twenty years ago, there was no Google, and we don’t know if Google will still exist in ten years from now. With companies such as Siemens or Nokia, we were once market leaders in the mobile-phone business. In this respect, start-ups and a European digital strategy with rules that everybody has to respect is the basis we will use to get back to this point and then race to catch up.

The only companies that are making any money on the web are the telcos, by sharing in the profits of the creators. Which measures is the EU considering in order to set up levies so that the telcos contribute to supporting films?
The telcos don’t make so much money either: German Telecom’s stock is stagnating. In this respect, there is nobody who is earning a fortune. We have to find a fair balance and achieve a situation where everybody can remain in the added-value chain. We need the telcos; they are regulated by the Federal Network Agency, which makes sure that there are profits, but not too much profit. We expect this profit to be invested in the infrastructure of the net. I think there has been quite a good balance so far. But it has to be built up in a new way because digital technology requires new relationships between the user and the initiator.

Will we keep the cultural exception in the TTIP negotiations?
Yes, it will remain.

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