Digital Single Market

European Commission announces Digital Single Market strategy

On 8 May 2015, the European Commission revealed its strategy for a Digital Single Market (DSM) - combining the 28 European territories into a common market for digital goods - which include film and television programmes.

The 16 initiatives, published by Commission Vice-President Andrus Ansip, propose the establishment of a unified and borderless regulatory framework for the internet across Europe. This affects the film and television industry through VoD platforms and content streaming services or online videos, for example.

The three pillars guiding the 16 initiatives will be to create:
Better access for consumers and businesses to digital goods and services across Europe
- The right conditions and a level playing field for digital networks and innovative services to flourish
- Maximized growth potential of the digital economy. 

The newly announced strategic plan has gone some way in allaying fears amongst industry of an end to territorial licensing, which could potentially affect the pre-sales business. 

It has been suggested that a much more balanced plan than originally announced has been proposed, particularly with regards to copyright reform.

The Commission suggests that it proposes to make cross-border e-commerce easier, whilst respecting territoriality. In a series of questions and answers on the DSM, the Commission states that it understands the importance of rights territoriality "for the creative sector, especially for the film industry." They continue: “If a film is available on a Video-on-Demand service in an EU country, Europeans outside the country can also pay to see it. This is not about opening access to all content for free. It is about a win-win situation for creators and users. This is about nurturing cultural diversity in the digital age.” 

The DSM proposal aims to eliminate geo-blocking, which bars consumers from accessing content across borders. Addressing what it describes as “unjustified geo-blocking”, as well as the need to modernise copyright law in a digital world, the report reads: “To this end, the Commission will propose solutions which maximize the offers available to users and open up new opportunities for content creators, while preserving the financing of EU media and innovative content." 

In place of multiple licenses in each European territory, one of the suggestions originally put forward by the Commission was for a single pan-European license to cover the entire continent - an idea which was emphatically rejected by many filmmakers. The Commission's proposal to replace territorial copyrights with pan-European licenses provoked consternation from the sector. Concerns were raised that the proposals would do away with the ability for producers to finance their films by selling them to individual territories across Europe.

The European Commission responded, highlighting the issue that access to European content has become overly complicated for European audiences: “It can be difficult, for example, for a Maltese consumer to download or stream from a German website,” the Commission stated. For instance, in France, which has Europe’s most rigid release windows, day-and-date theatrical releases and VoD are banned, whilst both are allowed in the UK and other territories. 

Last month, several European filmmakers including Mike Leigh (Mr. Turner), Ken Loach (The Angel's Share), and Michael Hazanavicius (The Artist) came together to issue a statement offering alternatives and signed a declaration, released during the Rome Rendez-Vouz, outlining their wish to “to redefine how cinema can circulate from one country to the next” and warning against taking drastic action such as the dismantling of territoriality of licensing.

The fact sheet published by the Commission provides answers to many questions that have been raised since Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission's President, made the DSM a priority last year. Regarding a European copyright framework, some particular characteristics of the film industry are highlighted specifically. “The Commission doesn't want to change the principle of territoriality of rights and understands it is important for the creative sector, and especially for the film industry. As such, [territoriality exclusivity] cannot be considered as unjustified geo-blocking.”

In addition, the Commission recognises that “each film has its distribution strategy, its release-windows system”. This is an indication that the concerns of the film industry have been heard and taken into account. 

“Today, we lay the groundwork for Europe’s digital future,” said President Juncker in a statement. “I want to see pan-continental telecoms networks, digital services that cross borders and a wave of innovative European start-ups. I want to see every consumer getting the best deals and every business accessing the widest market – wherever they are in Europe. Exactly a year ago, I promised to make a fully Digital Single Market one of my top priorities. Today, we are making good on that promise.”

Oettinger unveiled his DSM policy during a conference entitled “The Moving Image: Connecting European Films to a Global Audience” as part of the European Film Forum at Cannes on 18 May 2015.

The published factsheet regarding the DSM is available to view on the Commission's website.