Congloms hold back on signing

Tuesday’s Europe Day was supposed to climax with Time Warner, France Telecom, the BBC, Vivendi and EMI Music, among other companies, signing a new European Charter for Film Online.

Except they didn’t sign.

“Tueday, 16:30, Signature of the Charter of Film On Line,” the Europa Day press briefing ran.

But Time Warner et al. preferred the less committed form of merely “endorsing” the European Charter, which is a more ambiguous backing.

Their reticence comes with sound reasoning. Signing the charter may have had legal implications that the companies did not want to evoke. Also, people didn’t want to be too closely associated with a document that was at least very vague, and some critics said vacuous.

So why did the companies come to Cannes to powwowabout the charter in the first place?

Its large value, say analysts, is that it does at least get some big companies (though not all: British Telecom did not attend the charter endorsement) from the telco, ISP and content sector around the same table, including even a lone but huge U.S. entity, Time Warner.

And telcos and Internet service providers are very keen to keep in with the European Commission, which has other moves in the hopper.

These include a study of how to balance online consumer and content-owner interests, and an upcoming Television Without Fronteirs directive that could beat a big stick and allow individual states to force online players to invest in the Web presence of European pics and TV shows.

That’s one point of contention. Another is one of Media Commissioner Viviane Reding’s hobby horses: the need to distribute European movies beyond the country they were produced in. One obvious distribution channel is the Internet. Telcos would love to be able to sell films all over Europe.

The Internet opens up the possibility of abandoning country-by-country licensing systems for films. That is anathema to, for example, French author rights society SACD.

“The basis for film policy in Europe is national. You cannot treat the distribution of films as if you were selling cars,” said SACD’s Pascal Rogard.

The charter might not have meant much, but the issue of online distribution will run on, and on and on.

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