Last October, COMMUNIA was invited by the European Commission to a stakeholder dialogue to improve cross border access to audiovisual (AV) content. As part of the stakeholder dialogue, the European Commission organised a series of three meetings during which it invited stakeholders (predominantly organisations representing various parts of the audiovisual media sector) to agree on concrete steps to improve access to and availability of AV content across borders in the EU.
Over these three meetings it became increasingly clear that the majority of the invited stakeholders were not interested in working with the Commission on improving cross border access to audiovisual content in the EU. With the exception of the organisations representing users (apart from COMMUNIA these included BEUC and the Federal Union of European Nationalities) and a few dissident voices within the AV sector the representatives of AV rightholders, distributors, producers and creators insisted that the current system of territorial copyright licensing is working well and that it is essential for the financial sustainability of the European audio-visual sector as a whole.
According to them, the fact that this system also leads to widespread geo-blocking and deprives many Europeans of access to cultural works that are often (at least partially) funded with public money does not justify an intervention in the “well-balanced” business models that underpin AV production in Europe. In addition, they argue that it should be up to the market to increase cross-border access to AV works in the EU (while at the same time lobbying for increased EU support for the production and distribution of AV works).
Request for proposals
At the beginning of this year — after having been shown the cold shoulder by the AV sector — the Commission put the stakeholder dialogue on hold to reconsider its approach. Then, in June of this year, the Commission sent out a letter to all participants in the stakeholder dialogue inviting them to:
… submit proposals for concrete actions or roadmap presenting the steps you intend to take in order to contribute to improving the online availability and cross-border access to audiovisual works across the EU. We would welcome your proposals for commitments by Friday 23rd September 2022.
Adding that after assessing the proposals received, the Commission would
… convene a final meeting of the dialogue in the autumn in order to formally adopt them as participants’ commitments.
Last week, in response to this invitation, we submitted a proposal for a fallback TVOD service for publicly funded AV works. Here, we develop the concept for an independent not-for-profit platform that would ensure the availability of AV productions – that have received public funding – in all member states of the European Union.
The platform that we are proposing would be a Transactional Video on Demand platform (TVOD – industry parlance for a pay per view platform) and as such would be something that can generate extra revenue for the producers of films made available via the platform. It is not a proposal to make these works available for free.
Our proposal focuses on AV productions that have received public funding — which is the vast majority of AV productions made in Europe — because here the moral and cultural imperatives to make them available across all EU member states is the strongest. Implementing this proposal, which in itself accepts the current practice of exclusive territorial licensing, and — ironically — relies on geo-blocking as a mechanism for this, would be an important step towards a future without structural geo-blocking of AV works that are available in the EU.
We are looking forward to discussing our proposal with other stakeholders in the upcoming meeting of the stakeholder dialogue.