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Europe’s Digital Single Market: War Not Over, Warns Indie Film, TV Chief Jean Prewitt

European Commissioner Gunther Oettinger: Film and TV could be exempted from plans to create a Digital Single Market in Europe

The battle to protect the film and television industries’ ability to license copyright territory by territory in Europe appeared to have been won at the Cannes Film Festival this week, but the war is not over, Jean Prewitt, CEO of the Independent Film and Television Alliance, told Variety.

On Sunday, European Commissioner Gunther Oettinger said in Cannes that the film and television industries could be exempted from plans to create a Digital Single Market in Europe. Variety reported: “Peace has broken out between the European Commission and Europe’s film industry over the Commission’s plans for the movie industry’s digital future.” Oettinger said: “We want to come to a functioning single market for goods and products and services, but we don’t want to damage our creative industries, the film sector.”

European film business leaders urged caution. Michel Hazanavicius, director of “The Artist” and president of France’s ARP, a body representing authors, directors and producers, said: “We can’t hail this as a victory. It just means that the verdict is postponed, leaving us the opportunity to debate further and all get on the same page.”

Prewitt, whose organization represents more than 150 film and TV companies from 23 countries, is keen to underscore that sense of caution. Asked if she was satisfied that the debate concerning the Digital Single Market was heading in the right direction, she told Variety: “Oh, not at all. No, no, no. It is clear the Commission is committed to moving forward with its plans rapidly and see any waiver or exception as only a transitional measure.”

Oettinger suggested in his speech that it would be an exception that the industry would have to apply for, and it would have to be renewed every year.

“If it has to be renewed every year, that doesn’t change any of our issues,” Prewitt said. “And everyone heard from him, or felt they heard from him, that they were very committed to moving forward as rapidly as they could, because — at least at a staff level — the companion chit-chat was ‘Well how long do you think this industry might need an exception? So, if anything, they are viewing it as a transition.”

Prewitt applauded an intervention by producer David Puttnam, who had pointed out that an exception was not a derogation. An exception to the law is something that could be taken away by the European Commission at their own discretion, whereas a derogation would put film and TV outside of the law. An exception offered the industry no protection at all, and didn’t guarantee the industry what it needed for long-term financial planning.

“So, no, we are not satisfied,” Prewitt said. “If their goal was to call the troops off, we are not calling the troops off.”

Other challenges lay ahead, Prewitt said. These included an introduction by the European Commission of legislative proposals on territoriality and geo-blocking this fall, and they are also going to try to reopen the Cable and Satellite Directive. Regarding the latter, she said: “We understand the slant is that the broadcasters would like legislation that effectively puts them in charge, not only of the rights you have granted them, but all secondary rights. It just means that the compensation for secondary uses wouldn’t come to the producers.”

There are also ways that the EC would like to rewrite the copyright laws, she said, “that are potentially troublesome.”

“So it’s a whole series of things, and most of them to us translate to an effort to almost unseat producers, to take away producers’ rights to control exploitation,” she said, citing Netflix as one entity that may be allowed to take over these rights.

“It all feels like it is pushing the producers off to one side, and failing to acknowledge that it is the producers that really need to decide how best get their films and programs to the public. So, we are not at all pacified,” she said.

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