Neelie Kroes: who feeds the artist?

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The creative sector is a unique source for growth, both economic and social. And it’s something we do well in Europe. The current winner of the Oscar for Best Picture; the bestselling album in the US this year; 7 out of the last 10 winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature: what do they have in common? They all come from the EU.

This is essential to our image abroad, and essential to our economic future. And if we want it to stay this way, we must be able to support those who create art. We must be concerned about the fate of Europe’s struggling artists and creators. Art feeds the soul. But who feeds the artist?

Often, this debate focuses on copyright, especially enforcing copyright. But this isn’t the whole story.

For a moment, let’s take a step back from the tools, and remember what we are trying to achieve. Legally, we want a well-understood and enforceable framework. Morally, we want dignity, recognition and a stimulating environment for creators. Economically, we want financial reward so that artists can benefit from their hard work and be incentivised to create more.

I am an unconditional supporter of these objectives.

But let’s ask ourselves, is the current copyright system the right and only tool to achieve our objectives? Not really, I’m afraid. We need to keep on fighting against piracy, but legal enforceability is becoming increasingly difficult; the millions of dollars invested trying to enforce copyright have not stemmed piracy. Meanwhile citizens increasingly hear the word copyright and hate what is behind it. Sadly, many see the current system as a tool to punish and withhold, not a tool to recognise and reward.

Speaking of economic reward: if that is the aim of our current copyright system, we’re failing here too.

1000 euros a month is not much to live off. Often less than the minimum wage. But most artists, and not only the young ones at the early stages of their career, have to do so. Half the fine artists in the UK, half the “professional” authors in Germany, and, I am told, an incredible 97.5% of one of the biggest collecting society’s members in Europe, receive less than that paltry payment of 1000 euros a month for their copyright works. Of course, the best-paid in this sector earn a lot, and well done to them. But at the bottom of the pyramid are a whole mass of people who need independent means or a second job just to survive. Here to read more.

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