EU must address value gap to avoid cultural barbarism, expert warns

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‘We could be in for an era of cultural barbarism’ if the European parliament doesn’t step in to halt the transfer of value from music creators to content aggregators, warns UK Music chairman Andy Heath.

Heath was speaking at the PRS for Music Explores event last night (Thursday), which gathered experts from the European parliament, UK government and industry to discuss European copyright reforms.

Top of the agenda was current ‘safe harbour’ legislation within the E-Commerce Directive, which is exploited by digital platforms such as YouTube and is currently under review by legislators in Brussels.

If this legal loophole, which allows content aggregators to claim they are passive hosting services and therefore not liable under copyright law, is not amended, Heath said: ‘We could be in for an era of cultural barbarism, the likes of which we have never seen. It would be disastrous for civilisation.

‘I cannot believe that any parliamentarians arguing for [the safe harbour rule to stay] would expect to go into the butchers and get free meat. Where does their intellectual journey go from that position to the one that everything should be free on the internet? It’s asinine and it’s infantile. I am shocked that there is [even] a debate [about this].’

He continued: ‘It is going to be a dreadful thing for Europe. It won’t be very good for the music industry but it will be far worse for Europe. What about the citizen as a creator? That is definitely a very important future movement in this world. That will be completely lost. I really think it’s that important.’

Heath, who is also Beggars Group director, spoke after Crispin Hunt, songwriter and chairman of British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors (BASCA), who first raised the point that failing to reign in the global content providers is tantamount to an attack on civilisation.

Hunt said: ‘Everything that we understand as a civilisation is based upon our appreciation of human creativity – from cave paintings to Athens.

‘If we, for the sake of this new technology, which is only in its adolescence, throw away not just the moral wisdom and society’s wisdom that gives creativity some kind of value [the impact would be massive].

‘Google has deliberately conflated the idea of freedom of speech and freedom of people’s work. If we are reducing everything that has value to just stuff with a physical form, then the world stands to be a very dull place indeed and a very empty place.

‘If we completely devalue intellectual property, there will be no other markets to have. On a personal level, I find it deeply upsetting that this has been turned into an industrial battle between Silicon Valley and Hollywood.’

Hunt and Heath were joined by PRS for Music chief executive Robert Ashcroft, MEP Mary Honeyball, Ros Lynch, director of copyright and enforcement at the Intellectual Property Office (IPO), Jackie Alway, Music Publishers Association (MPA) chair and Agata Gerba, acting deputy head of the copyright unit at the European Commission.

The panel was moderated by John Mottram, head of public affairs at PRS for Music.

Related:
Copyright reform is the most divisive issue the European parliament has faced in 17 years, says UK MEP Mary Honeyball