EU Commissioner Reassures Filmmakers on Digital Single Market Plan

Andrus Ansip

Commission vice president Andrus Ansip says erasing national barriers to online distribution will not hurt the industry as Europe will keep territoriality and windows.

Europe's film industry has nothing to fear from a planned digital single market that would allow EU consumers everywhere access to film and TV content from across the continent.

That was the message from EU politician Andrus Ansip, who used a Thursday appearance at a Tallinn, Estonia industry event to assuage industry fears that changes to European law could dismantle or disrupt the film business.

The European Commission, Europe's executive body, is pushing a plan to create a Digital Single Market, or DSM, across all of Europe's 28 countries. That would mean consumers would be guaranteed legal online access to films available in Europe, no matter where in the EU they live. The proposals have scared the film industry, which worries it will dismantle key aspects of the business, in particular territoriality —the licensing of film rights to individual EU countries on an exclusive basis — and windowing, where by distributors in different countries decide when a film is released on which medium (cinema, home entertainment, VOD).

But speaking to a crowd of skeptical Euro film execs at the European Film Forum in Tallinn, Ansip said the DSM would not change how they do business. "We do not what to change territoriality, we do not want to change windowing," Ansip said. "We don't want an explosion, we don't want a revolution."

Ansip said the European Commission didn't want to destroy the film industry's business model but insisted the model had to change, at least when it comes to VOD distribution. The current system, in which many films are not legally available across all of Europe, is "unfair to consumers and unfair to creators," he argued. "There is a demand for these films but there is no legal access ... We are pushing our own people to steal [these movies] online."

Under the DSM, he said, cross-border piracy would decline and rights holders would be better compensated for their work.

Ansip, however, was vague as to how exactly the new system would work and how conflicts between consumers' right to online access and rights holders' territorial exclusivity would be resolved. On the question of remuneration for online sales, the commissioner said it was up to online distributors, not politicians, to work out fair business models.

Another unresolved issue is copyright law. Currently, copyright legislation differs from one European country to the next. Ansip is proposing a reform and harmonization of copyright law across the EU as part of his plan for a DSM. "I'm confident we will achieve copyright reform," he tells THR. "The current system is benefiting no one. Doing nothing is not an option. It is time to act. I'm afraid we are late already."

In December, Ansip and the European Commission will outline specific legislative proposals to create the DSM. These will go to the European parliament, which will vote on the legislation, likely in 2016.