A group of senior MPs have signed a cross-party letter to Culture Secretary Karen Bradley urging the Government to challenge controversial EU proposals that threaten the principle of territorial exclusivity for film and TV copyright licensing.
Signatories include former Culture Secretary John Whittingdale and Shadow Culture Secretary Tom Watson.
The letter expresses concern about the potential for the EU to introduce a ’country of origin principle’ for some online audio-visual broadcasts or weaken contractual freedom, warning that these plans could fundamentally undermine film and TV financing models and lead to less varied content.
Film industry groups have long worried that the plans, part of the European Commission’s Digital Single Market initiative, could drastically impact the film sales business, which underpins the independent film industry.
These impacts would occur notwithstanding the UK’s departure from the EU, claim the MPs, as the EU represents 37 percent and 40 percent of UK television and film exports respectively, totalling more than £912 million a year.
The signatories to the letter call on the Government to publish a clear and unambiguous statement on the issue (as they say France and Spain have done already) ahead of the EU deadline for member states to respond to the Estonian presidency proposals on the matter, and propose the statement text copied below the letter.
Commenting on the letter, John McVay, the chief executive of independent producers’ body Pact, said the UK Government must use all of its remaining influence to “seize the opportunity to support the French and Spanish Governments, both of which have already expressed their opposition to the Commission’s proposals due to the impact they would have on their domestic audio-visual industries”.
He added: “Any intervention by the Commission which undermines the ability to license on an exclusive territorial basis will lead to less investment in new productions and reduce the quality and range of content available to UK and EU consumers.”
Dear Secretary of State,
We are writing to urge you to issue a clear and definitive statement of the Government’s position on those aspects of the European Commission’s Digital Single Market agenda which currently threaten the future financing of UK film and television content and will result in poorer choice for consumers. While we were pleased to hear that the UK Permanent Representation in Brussels spoke out against aspects of the proposals at a recent Working Group meeting, the Government needs to provide certainty and join the ever-growing voice of countries publically speaking out against these proposals.
This letter is signed by and has the support of representatives from all the main political parties; there is a cross-party consensus that the Government needs to do more to support the UK audio-visual sector in opposing aspects of the European Commission’s proposals.
The UK’s audio-visual industries represent a vital part of the UK’s fast-growing sector, the creative industries. Our film, TV and video industries are truly world leaders, and the UK has become a hub of excellence for film and TV production. Overall these industries deliver significant investment into the UK as well as employing over 160,000 people, providing approximately £4 billion in exports and making an immeasurable contribution to the UK’s cultural heritage and global soft power.
While we all welcome the ambition to deliver the conditions for the digital economy to thrive across Europe, providing better outcomes for consumers and businesses alike, it is however important to ensure that the development of these policy proposals do not have unintended adverse consequences.
Along with the Governments of France, Spain and Italy, the UK Government needs to oppose any proposed EU interventions that threaten the principle of territorial exclusivity for copyright licensing, including via the introduction of a country of origin principle for some online audio-visual broadcasts or via the weakening of contractual freedom. As they stand, the European Commission proposals do not provide any safeguards for contractual freedom.
The existing freedom to find the optimum finance system to fund TV and film production underpins film and television content across the EU and supports cultural diversity in audio-visual content. A recent pan-European, independent economic study of the EU proposals concluded that UK (and other EU) consumers would be left substantially worse off by the proposals as the changes would remove the incentive for developing varied content - leading to less choice for viewers and less high quality film and TV content being made.
Even as the UK prepares to withdraw from the EU, these negative impacts on the sector and consumers would occur regardless of the future trading arrangements we agree with the remaining 27 EU countries. This will have a particularly significant impact on the UK film and television market – Europe’s largest - as the EU represents 37 per cent and 40 per cent of UK television and film exports respectively, totalling more than £912 million a year. After Brexit, UK-based companies will still look to distribute content across the European market and engage in co-productions with European partners and any proposals that undermine the value in this market will therefore have a major impact on the UK sector.
The UK has yet to publish a clear and unambiguous statement on this issue. The Intellectual Property Office’s call for views on the EU copyright framework closed in December 2016 and there has still not been a public response from Minsters. The discussions at EU level are at a crucial stage and we call upon the UK to issue a public statement just as our counterparts in France, Spain and Italy have done.
To that end, we have prepared a suggested draft statement for the Government to consider, which we attach. We believe the UK Government needs to stand behind our world-beating film and television sector and publically oppose these potentially damaging proposals. The industry is at one in supporting this call.
John Whittingdale MP
Former Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport
Tom Watson MP
Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport
Kevin Brennan MP
Deputy Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport
Brendan O’Hara MP
SNP culture Spokesperson
Christine Jardine MP
Liberal Democrat Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)
Vice Chair of the All Party Parliamentary IP Group
Proposed statement text
“Britain’s future prosperity will be built on our technical capability and creative flair and the UK government is committed to creating the conditions where digital and creative businesses can thrive. The UK is already home to a world leading digital economy and is a global hub for the creative industries, which contribute £87bn a year to our economy. The European Commission’s Digital Single Market agenda has important implications for these sectors and the UK Government will therefore continue to engage collaboratively in the development of these proposals during the period in which we negotiate a new relationship with the European Union.
“We are committed to working to secure an environment conducive to growth and innovation in the digital economy in the UK and across Europe. We have a mutual interest to promote the success of this vital economic sector and it is important to ensure the outcomes of this process benefit consumers and deliver real economic benefits. The copyright related proposals under the Digital Single Market agenda must also be considered in light of their likely impact on the UK’s, and wider European, creative industries. It is particularly important to ensure these proposals do not have unintended adverse consequences in the area.
“While we have a common interest in promoting the health of the digital economy and support the broader Digital Single Market agenda, we are concerned at the potential impact of specific proposals on the financing of film and television production in the UK and across Europe. Exclusive territorial licensing is a vital element enabling the sustainable financing and distribution of film and television content across Europe. There is robust economic evidence demonstrating that undermining this principle would harm investment in content, result in reduced choice for consumers and harm cultural diversity.
“Alongside the Governments of Spain, Italy and France, the UK Government will oppose any interventions that threaten the principle of territorial exclusivity for copyright licensing, including via the introduction of a country of origin principle for some online audio-visual broadcasts or via the weakening of contractual freedom.
“We will continue to work with other member states in the Council, the European Commission and the European Parliament to deliver the conditions for the digital economy to thrive across Europe, boosting jobs, innovation and investment as well as providing better outcomes for consumers.”