EC VP for the Digital Single Market defends principle of “territoriality” but also offers stark statistics during Brussels event.

Andrus Ansip

Speaking today (Friday) at the European Film Forum in Brussels, European Commission Vice-President for the Digital Single Market, Andrus Ansip, has defended the principle of “territoriality” even as he called for greater flexibility when it comes to “portability” of rights. 

Ansip also had some stark statistics about the way that European films are still lagging far behind those from the US when it comes to their international distribution prospects.

Around 80% of American movies are available in at least 20 countries around the world at any one time - but 79% of EU-made movies are available only in two countries at maximum, he told delegates. In other words, European films simply aren’t travelling.

The dilemma for the EU is how to provide better cross border access to digital content while ensuring that authors receive fairer renumeration.

During his “fireside chat” on the Digital Single Market, Ansip pointed out that 20% of Europeans are spending at least 10 days a year in another member state. On their travels, they are denied access to  legally bought content because of cumbersome copyright laws. They can get round these restrictions by using torrents, VPN and free downloads - but when they do so, authors stand to lose out.

“For filmmakers, it is a real headache. Authors are not fairly remunerated,” Ansip stated.

A year ago,  Ansip admitted, some people wanted to “kill me because of this portability problem.” However, the commissioner clearly feels that the debate around portability has now moved on.

“We had to protect the principle of territoriality but I think a year ago, we had a different understanding of what this absolute territorial exclusivity means,” Ansip said. “I am ready to protect - and I am protecting - the principle of territoriality but we had to understand the reality. Piracy is a real headache and to deal with piracy, we had to provide also legal access to digital content for our people.”

“Old fashioned” rules

The commissioner bemoaned “old fashioned” rules currently in place that push Europeans to “steal.”

“They don’t want to steal. They would like to pay. They would like to get legal access to digital content - and that’s why we made this portability proposal.”

Ansip claimed that the proposal has received widespread support. “It will be a good solution for everybody - for our (European) people who will get legal access to their legally bought digital content even when travelling in some other countries. It will be a good solution also for filmmakers and rights holders because they will be more fairly remunerated,” he said of the proposal to provide “better cross border access to digital content.”

The Commission is trying to put “easier, cheaper” licensing arrangements in place, he added.

Ansip also warned of the problems that face smaller EU countries in an increasingly fragmented digital era. “We know that big countries are able to deal with 28 sets of rules but for smaller countries, it is practically impossible to understand about those 28 types of different regulation.” 

He cited his own country Estonia as among those suffering.

The European Film Forum is being held to celebrate 25 years of the MEDIA Programme.