By Philippe Carcassonne and Ruth Vitale
YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki is the protagonist in a propaganda war about the new EU Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market. One of the directive’s stated aims was to ensure that hosting sites such as YouTube step up to their responsibility to discourage the uploading of creative copyright content without the authorization of those who created and produced it.
In a recent critique of the draft legislation, Wojcicki sought to defend her company’s opposition by claiming: “Creativity has long been a guiding force in my life.”
Uh, really? As actual creative professionals in a film industry that is under siege by out-of-control internet platforms like Wojcicki’s YouTube, we found her choice of words to be disturbing – as did many of our peers.
“We” are Philippe Carcassonne, a French producer of dozens of films including Coco Before Chanel and The Illusionist, and Ruth Vitale, the former co-president of Paramount Classics. In 2002, our release of the acclaimed independent drama Man on the Train grossed nearly $8 million globally – a healthy number for a French-language drama.
Today, it is almost impossible to finance a film like Man on the Train and expect it to recoup its financial investment. Why? The primary culprit is the global piracy ecosystem and the unauthorized redistribution of our content. Piracy has drained the profits out of our business and funneled them to the online platforms who facilitate unauthorized sharing of our content . . . in exchange for advertising revenues.
If left unchecked, piracy and unauthorized sharing of our content is projected to cost the film and television industries $52 billion by 2022. Those ongoing losses threaten the entire film industry and deal an especially severe blow to smaller independent films. Yet while independent filmmakers bleed from streaming piracy, YouTube makes billions of advertising dollars from people watching the content that we have spent blood, sweat, tears, and money to create.
Wojcicki claims that YouTube’s Content ID tool can stop the widespread piracy her platform enables. With Content ID, certain uploaded content can be scanned for infringement and automatically taken down. But this feature is only available at YouTube’s discretion and only to content owners of a certain size. Most independent creatives do not qualify.
Wojcicki specifically attacks Article 13 of the draft Copyright Directive, which was initially intended to require that online service providers “cooperate in good faith in order to ensure that unauthorized protected works or other subject matter are not available on their services.” This is a legitimate collective concern for all copyright content sectors.
While Big Tech attacks Article 13, compromises are being floated. One idea on the table would require YouTube and similar providers to obtain a paid-for “license” from rightsholders who willingly agree to let others post their content on the platform. In exchange for this license, YouTube would enjoy extended protection from liability for content being uploaded illegally.
This approach may possibly work for some sectors, whose model consists in licensing huge repertoires through collective rights’ management organizations in exchange for payment. But it does not work at all for us filmmakers. Our business relies heavily on pre-licensing rights to our projects on an individual film-by-film basis, for each market, including online platforms. This is how we raise the considerable investments required to make quality film and TV. We can’t undercut this complex financing and recoupment model by granting YouTube licenses when our content is uploaded without our authorization. One broadcaster recently noted that the revenues gained from distributing content on YouTube constitute little more than “a tip”.
The proposed compromise betrays the original intention of Article 13 – to effectively end the availability of unauthorized content on YouTube and similar platforms. Moreover, it will eliminate all responsibility from the likes of YouTube to prevent the illegal uploading of our works. We will still bear the huge cost and efforts required to contain this persistent form of online piracy while YouTube will have the legally-sanctioned privilege of looking the other way.
YouTube and other companies that stand to benefit from weakened copyright protection have unleashed armies of lobbyists and “digital activists” to spread the lie that making them more accountable for copyright infringement will “break the internet.” It’s not true, but it’s the same song and dance we hear any time governments try to strike a balance between the interests of internet platforms and creatives.
Wojcicki writes that “the creative economy is under threat.” She’s right – but not for the reasons she claims. Big internet platforms can easily do more to protect creative copyright content. Their ability to host user-generated content is not at risk. But, their ability to attract huge advertising revenues around the unauthorized use of commercially valuable creative copyright content is. And it’s those revenues, not “the creative economy,” that YouTube really wants to protect.
The EU Copyright Directive should require hosting sites and platforms to take their fair share of responsibility for preventing online piracy and unauthorized sharing of copyright content. That would not break the internet. It would enrich it by preserving creativity and investment.
Protecting creativity should be the guiding force in public policy, not protecting YouTube’s immense power in the cultural marketplace.
Philippe Carcassonne is the co-owner and general manager Ciné-@, a French film production company established in 1986. In a career spanning over 30 years, Philippe has produced or coproduced 67 feature films. Additionally, he has held a number of official positions within the French film industry, including the Cinémathèque Française, and the ACE Ateliers du Cinéma Européen (ACE). Philippe also chairs the Producers’ Committee of the national film export agency Unifrance.
Ruth Vitale is the CEO of CreativeFuture, a nonprofit coalition promoting the value of creativity and strong copyright protections in the digital age. Her films have won three Oscars® and received 16 nominations as well as 18 Golden Globe® nominations and two wins. Her films include The Girl on The Bridge, Man on the Train, Intimate Strangers, The Virgin Suicides, Sunshine, You Can Count on Me, The Machinist, Mad Hot Ballroom, Hustle & Flow, Shine, Dirty Dancing, and Gummo.