Opening session of the IFRRO Annual General Meeting 2018 in Athens

Τετάρτη 24 Οκτωβρίου 2018

Thank you for inviting me to your congress. Copyrights and their management is of course a cultural issue, but at the same time it is deeply political and historical. In this scope, exploring copyright laws not on their own, but as part of specific discursive contexts may appear helpful in tracing the contingencies of the future. What I am suggesting is that it is impossible to understand the discussion on copyrights and their management through an essentialized approach.  We ought to keep in mind that it is inscribed in the matrix of the political, ideological, economic and cultural discourse of historically defined societies.

Copyright laws became the main issue in the public discussion several times in the past, especially when a significant change in the social context or the technological means of cultural production took place. We began discussing about copyrights, when printing transformed the field of production, reproduction and circulation of literary works, mainly in the discursive frame of the Enlightenment. During the 19th century, when the developments in technology facilitated literacy and the shaping of the public sphere, the approach of copyrights was twofold: to censor the content that was considered potentially dangerous for the established political and religious order and to encourage publication projects deemed worthy or important. Discussions sparked again in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when cultural products became commodities of mass consumption. At the same time, digitization began to pose questions of authorship and ownership. The field was then much broader than before: texts, images, moving images, art, music etc became pieces of a puzzle that at the same time defined cultural production and were defined by their consumption, often through reproductions and replicas. It is the period that Walter Benjamin refers to as the one in which the aura of authenticity had been lost due to the mechanical reproduction of cultural products but the loss was balanced by the widening of their accessibility. Cultural products left the ivory towers of the elites and found their place in the centre of everyday practices. It is within this socio-political context that the main lines of contemporary legislation on copyrights were formed.

Today we are facing new challenges. Cultural products require not only their reproduction, but often their alteration to remain interesting. They are constantly “works in progress”. Limits and distinctions are becoming porous or blurred. New authorships are linked to the initial one, authenticity is compromised, cultural products acquire second and third lives.

We are facing a major shift of paradigm, witnessing and preparing at the same time a new matrix for cultural services. In the process, it is imperative to regulate the field and to secure the sustainability of cultural production by establishing a framework of copyrights on behalf of the creators. The conduct is political.

It is the state’s duty to shape the frame within which collective management organizations, right-holders and consumers will function. We are aligned with the recent European Union law initiatives to update the legislation on copyrights and protect the creators’ interests. Phenomena where mediating networks ignore the interests of the creators in the name of the supposed freedom of consumption, practically undermine the process of cultural production as a whole. Such practices are not as rare as we would like to think. In Greece, for instance, the monopoly of the field of copyright management for years resulted in the distortion of the market, to a point that the government was forced to adopt an intermediate and transitional solution, until the field of the collective copyrights management could be reconstructed. 

Regulation of such a complex field needs to be planned both on a global and a national level. IFRRO effectively gives the global directions as far as the position of its members/right holders are concerned. Peculiarities on national levels need to be dealt with by national institutions. In the case of our country, the situation has shaped as follows; the Directive 2014/26 for the collective management has been implemented so as to provide: extensive regulation securing transparency, accountability, supervision and participation of right-holders in the governance of CMOs. Equipment levies have been modernized, so as to include digital technology and make the compensation fairer. At the same time, an exception to the public lending right with remuneration for right-holders has been introduced. It is a step towards democratization of the accessibility, provided that libraries play an active role in the society.  

The next initiative to be undertaken is the new Directive for the Copyright in the Digital Single Market, so as to modernize certain aspects of the copyright framework. The Greek government aims to support the new press publishers’ right, in their electronic publications, to fair compensation, and to regulate the liability of platforms that are profiting from content uploaded by end-users. The aim is that licenses established between platform and right-holders shall provide for a fair remuneration of the right-holders. This leads to an improvement of the position of authors against those who are exploiting their works, the creation of a level playing field between the educational sector and the right-holders. Further, the incorporation of the Directive 2017/1564 for the benefit of print disabled persons, and the improvement and enhancement of the Greek Copyright Office, with the scope to become an effective supervisory authority on CMOs and a mediator between CMOs and users.

To sum up. Copyrights laws and management are closely relevant to the kind of citizens we need. Who can produce and access culture? How is culture connected to power? How does technology redefine the conception, the function and the management of culture? What are the balances between accessibility, sustainability, profit, public and social benefit?

Users will always want to have access to copyright works in a simple and fast way without barriers. Authors, artists, producers and publishers depend on their income from their copyrights in order to create more cultural, scientific and educational works. Copyright should not be seen as a barrier to free access. Collective management organizations have an important role in the perspective of facilitating and providing legal access to copyright works, thus contributing and safeguarding cultural sustainability.