At the Avignon Forum in France in November, Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes, gave a speech that has stirred mixed emotions in the creative community. Kroes said:
”We must be concerned about the fate of Europe’s struggling artists and creators. Art feeds the soul. But who feeds the artist?”
Although we genuinely appreciate the Commissioner’s concern, the question, however well intended, feels a little condescending. Not only do artists try very hard to feed themselves, but in fact what artists create feeds a whole industry. So in a manner of speaking artists help to feed Europe.
But today the economic rewards for the jobs and growth that our creative work generates, are not fed back to the creators and risk-takers of the value chain. This is not sustainable.
When the artist bakes a cake, he or she only gets to keep a thin slice. A discussion paper published in 2004 by the economist William Nordhaus tried to establish exactly how thin that slice is. Nordhaus reckons that innovators capture a minuscule 2.2 % of the total social benefit of their innovations.
But the reason for this imbalance is hardly the legal framework itself, as
ommissioner Kroes goes on to suggest. In fact the reasons she lists for having existential qualms about copyright, is simply that some people “hate it” and that enforcing it is expensive.
One of her answers to our troubles is the new opportunities offered by ICT, the sector that relies on a cousin in the intellectual property family: Patents.
Commissioner Kroes has, to my knowledge, no objections to the concept of patents in the digital era.
Tech giants and telecoms are currently engaged in patent wars and slug it out in sealed courtrooms, but they do stand shoulder to shoulder in the very public attack on copyright, the go-to excuse being that it’s an “obstacle” to the single market.
They fight tooth and nail not to pay creators their fair share in the form of licensing fees or private copy levies. All the while their growth is on the back of those “content” creators. If we were still using mobiles just to talk or send text messages, who would need a smartphone?
During a debate in the European Parliament during the 2010 European Innovation Summit, I asked the Nokia representative how much they
calculated on saving, if they succeeded in weakening copyright. She declined to answer.
Her colleagues at Google have been more successful in subverting copyright by deploying a Trojan horse called Creative Commons: A system that helps artists give away their works for free. In his well researched book “Free Ride” Robert Levine exposes the smoke screen “public interest” foundations and ties to academic institutions that Google has engineered to push their self-serving agenda in recent years. Google co-founder Sergey Brin’s mother-in-law even holds the position of Vice Chair on the board of Creative Commons (which is apparently her only relevant credential for being on it).
Incidentally, Google is being investigated on both sides of the Atlantic on charges of abusing its dominant market position. Last week, Google’s Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt was summoned to Brussels to meet with Competition Commissioner Almunia. It is understood that the Commission has compiled a 400-page “statement of objections” that it may pass to Google within the next eight weeks outlining its findings against the company, which Financial Times reports to be “multiple and multifaceted abuses”.
Yet Commissioner Kroes seems happy to be sending more business Google’s way.
The recent Commission Recommendation on digitisation of Europe’s cultural heritage, gives Google 7 years of ”preferential commercial use” of our cultural heritage masterpieces in return for their digitisation services in public-private partnerships with under-financed and understaffed European public institutions.
Wednesday 7 December, marked a “historical” occasion, said the rather pompous invitation. For the first time, the three organisations ETNO (telecoms), GSMA (mobile operators) and Digital Europe (hardware manufacturers) came together to…. host a party.
Although the cheap trick of touting industry cooperation delivered the presence of Commissioner Kroes, these clever operators may have overplayed their hand with this event.
On the eve of EU leaders arriving in Brussels for the euro crisis summit, ICT executives feasted on oysters and champagne, a spectacle that, at least in American politics, goes under the label of being “out of touch”.
And even more so, given that the EU has decided to support telecoms to the tune of € 9.2 billion in the next 7-year budget period. If the euro survives, that is.
Meanwhile Commissioner Kroes had to suffer through ecstatic propaganda speeches by each of the 3 hosts, and by the time Digital Europe’s CEO delivered a speculative tribute to Steve Jobs, and thanked “Neelie, our Commissioner”, her face had frozen over.
”I understand this is a historical event, that there are three of you paying the bill. That’s a good idea in this time of economic crisis,” said Commissioner Kroes with no small amount of sarcasm as she took to the podium. She pointed out that she does not come to such events very often, and prefers to do business in the office.
Seemingly demotivated, she then ditched her prepared ”keynote” speech saying: ”You all know my message”.
Indeed the ICT industry does, and cheers it on. As a creator I had hoped she would tell them to pay some other bills too…
Or at least make the case for an innovative business model, something like a Food-for-Thought Programme for artists, except….we already have that. It’s also known as Intellectual Property Rights.
At the end of the day, the main message we artists want to take away from Commissioner Kroes is something else she said in her Avignon speech:
”Legally, we want a well-understood and enforceable framework. Morally, we want dignity, recognition and a stimulating environment for creators. Economically, we want financial reward so that artists can benefit from their hard work and be incentivised to create more. I am an unconditional supporter of these objectives”.
So are we. Dear Commissioner Kroes, you are our Commissioner too. But let’s work with copyright – or authors’ rights as we in Europe like to call it – and not against it.
Elisabeth O. Sjaastad