Easy does it at EU

Union offers legal alternatives to new movies

BRUSSELS — The European Union wants to make it easier for broadband Internet users to download pics legally — and it has chosen the film Mecca of Cannes to kick off its new initiative.

On Tuesday, EU media commissioner Viviane Reding will be at the fest to unveil a charter on downloading that the European Commission has drawn up with input from U.S. and EU film and telco companies, including Time Warner, Telecom Italia, Vivendi and Belgacom.

The interests of the two sides often conflict because piracy forces movie rights owners to restrict access to their pics on the Web.

The charter maintains that both sides should profit from online film sales; it also hopes to make the clearance of film rights easier and strives to make technology consumer-friendly.

The aim is to ensure that Internet service providers and film companies cooperate to raise copyright awareness, develop copyright-protection technology and work against the perception that online content should be free.

Andrew Bolton, chief operating officer for On Demand Group, an interactive media and content consultancy, said the charter would be a “helpful policy guide alongside the industry’s own initiatives.” These include Time Warner’s move on May 9 to allow consumers to buy downloads of Warner films and TV shows when they become available on DVD for similar prices.

But Philippe Kern from the European Film Cos. Alliance doubts that film rights would be protected.

“The charter does not push the telecom industries to stem the illegal activities taking place on the networks,” he said. “In effect the content industry — namely film and music — are subsidizing the rollout of broadband, but neither ISPs nor telcos are taking any responsibility for this.

“Usually, the main proponent on the side of film is Time Warner — companies such as Zentropa or Constantin are too isolated among the multinationals and are not sufficiently resourced to have a real say in this process,” Kern continued. “Luckily, we had Warner confronting telcos and broadcasters, but it just shows how politically weak the European film industry is.”

The competitiveness of European films will be discussed at a meeting in Cannes on Tuesday attended by the culture and audiovisual ministers of the 25 EU member states plus Reding, Cannes festival prexy Gilles Jacob, film professionals and government ministers from non-EU countries.