EU under pressure to strengthen copyright protection
By Renagh Christopher
Published: November 10, 2010 10.28 Europe/London

ACT ANNUAL CONFERENCE – BRUSSELS. Television companies have told the EU that current legal standards of copyright protection and enforcement are insufficient. The largest investor in content in the European Industry is BSkyB, which invests approximately £1 billion (€1.16bn) in content, including its sports coverage. David Wheeldon, director of policy & public affairs at BSkyB commented that companies take “big bets” when it comes to content. He also stressed that his company had made a significant investment in 3D content to the extent that “Hollywood is coming to our doors” to discover what the broadcaster has learnt.

The high risk investment in content was also stressed by Portuguese broadcaster TVi’s Director General Joao Cotrim de Figueiredo who emphasized that innovation in content, particularly when produced for prime time audiences, was particularly difficult. A small drop in viewing figures, if the content has been expensive, can have a swift and serious impact on advertising revenue. Further, unlike the music and publishing industries, the initial outlay by broadcasters on content is much more expensive due to the high cost of producing broadcast material. High definition is now the industry standard yet there has been little revenue return for the industry in exchange for the enhancement of production values.

Magnus Brooke, ITV’s director of policy & regulatory affairs explained that even a popular programme such as Downton Abbey which attracted an audience of 10 to 11 million viewers would not recoup its costs on its first transmission. As the programme costs approximately £1 million an hour, he expects it will only be on future broadcasts in the UK, Europe and globally that the series will recoup its costs.

Bearing in mind the concerns of the industry about the cost of content and the emergence of multiple new platforms to broadcast it, there was clear concern that there was not a sufficient response at an EU level to strengthen copyright protection and enforcement. In a remark directed at Neelie Kroes, Joao Cotrim de Figueiredo urged the Commissioner to listen to the television industry on television issues rather than the telecoms industry.

MEP Marielle Gallo emphasized that the European Parliament, newly empowered by the Lisbon Treaty, had adopted her report on strengthening intellectual property rights in the European market. Her report recommends that Europeans are educated about the gravity of copyright infringement with an emphasis on internet use. Kersin Jorna, Deputy Head of Cabinet for Internal Market & Services Commissioner Barnier, emphatically declared that Mr.Barnier had sole responsibility in the College of EU Commissioners for copyright policy, as opposed to say the Commissioner of Digital Initiatives Neelie Kroes. She said Commissioner Barnier regarded it as an “enabling tool” which has to fit several business models. She also said that following the adoption of the Gallo report by Parliament, Commissioner Barnier was working on a copyright strategy paper.