Beware the Sofa Trap and Why Authors Rights Are a Consumer Interest

BRUSSELS Busy week in European policy, Netopia attended two important events on digital content. Here is the report.

– Cinema has a special place in the lives of young people. It is one of the first places where they can meet without parents present. They go together with friends. The cinema may be where you get your first kiss.

Those were the words of Richard Patry, French cinema operator and chairman of the cinema assocation, at a seminar in European Parliament this week hosted by MEP Bogdan Wenta. The main take-away was that while film and cinema are obviously very closely linked, cinema is also special compared to other windows. This is in line with what the Swedish philosopher (and pirate ideologist) Rasmus Fleischer pointed out in his 2009 book Det postdigitala manifestet (”The Post-Digital Manifesto”, Ink Publishing) – in the post-digital age, aspects like physical and spatial presence become more valuable. This insight might add to the economic explanations that are often cited as reasons why the cinema, perhaps ironically, is more important than in a long time. While only a few percent of all film viewing take place in the cinema, ticket sales represents about half of what the audience spends on film altogether. Cinema is becoming more important, not less. Another reason is of course the decrease in revenue from home entertainment (such as dvds) which is not compensated for by money from the new VOD-offerings. The phenomenon ”analog dollars, digital pennies” is no different for film than for other sectors.

Market analyst Tilman Rotberg (GfK) provided the word of the day: ”sofa trap”. When we come home from work or school, it is easy to fall into the sofa trap and not go out again that day, for cinema or otherwise. This is a challenge for cinema, but there may be solutions in digital communication for example online and apps, suggested Rotberg. Many panelists pointed to the importance of film-makers to be able to recoup their investment throughout the whole value chain of cinema, video and television, pointing out that some of the EU Commissions digital single market proposals risk decreasing the value of the licenses, to the detriment of investment, growth and jobs.

A different quote, this time by the Dalai Lama, was offered in the seminar The Future of Creativity in the Online Environment, as organised by consumer organisation BEUC and a series of authors’ associations.

– It is foolish to forget long term interests in search of short term benefits

The main idea of the event was to connect the interests of consumers with those of authors and several speakers made the point that consumers are often also creators – therefore authors. Transparent and fair were the keywords and ECSA chairman Alfons Karabuda defined fair as ”sustainable in a value chain that works long term”. Mike Holderness, journalist and chair of the European Federation of Journalists Authors’ Rights Expert Group stressed the moral rights to object if a work is distorted and said it is particularly important for journalists as they report the news, in fact it is a consumer interest. This is contrary to an often held opinion that consumers interests are opposed to authors rights. Netopia asked a question about the right to information and whether all data should be regarded as information, and Holderness replied that this distinction of data and expression is central to journalism: to take data for example from a scientist and turn it into a form that the public can understand. Another myth turned on its head – all content should not be treated as data and that distinction is fundamental to freedom of expression.


Full disclosure: Per Strömbäck was the moderator for one of the panels at the Cinema Next-seminar and organiser UNIC is a Netopia-sympathiser. Netopia has no formal affiliation with the organisers of the second event, however.