Could a single digital market ruin the European music industry?

musicLead by Europes’s digital single market commissioner Andrus Ansip, former Estonian Prime Minister, the EU is planning to reform their copyright laws, creating uniform regulations in all member states in order to form a single digital market. This would mean equal access for people all over the Union to all media created in the EU.

Part of the planned reform is to get rid of geoblocking, that is limiting access to some content in some countries. I´m sure many of you have stared sadly at the text ‘Not available in your country’ instead of a new music video of your favorite band. So, for a regular consumer, abolition of this kind of limitations is a good news. For independent artists from small and not so wealthy countries, however, it might just bring more worries.

Even though Ansip claims that these changes would give people access to more diverse content, it would be more advantageous to big corporations that already enjoy the benefits of having the largest share in streaming business. And that in turn would mean, that bland pop music is even more available and small indie labels have to work even harder to get their artists to the world.

With current regulations, independent artists have a chance to first gather audience from their own country and finance themselves by selling their music to individual territories in Europe. A borderless single market would prevent that.

The statement that there would be equal opportunities for artists from all countries, doesn´t hold true. Pieces of music, just as all acts of creative work, can never have the equal chance to succeed anyway. Making smaller acts compete with those owned by moguls means that the average will prosper and the unique will not be discovered.

Something that Ansip (who, by the way, also promised to make Estonia one of the 5 richest countries in Europe) mentions a lot while talking about the dream of the single digital market is European internet, European culture or European values. What he seems to dismiss, is the fact, that Europe consists of different countries, different languages and cultures. This also means different markets with different need, that cannot be all satisfied with a uniform solution.

Another thing we have to keep in mind while talking about copyright and content distribution, is piracy. I agree with the commissioner, that when some content is not available in your country legally, you find other ways to get the album, movie or e-book. Internet service providers and advertisers will still get their money, the artists however stand helplessly as others profit from their work.

On the other hand, thanks to online streaming, it is possible to enjoy music and movies without downloading them and mostly without paying or for a very small cost. The ethics and fairness of how money moves from these programs to musicians, again, is a more difficult matter, often said to prefer big companies to independent ones.

The current EU copyright law was created in 2001. Back then, there was no YouTube, no Spotify and no other ways of online streaming. Distributing mass media through the Internet was still quite unknown. With nowadays technical progress, the way we perceive the ownership of creative content has changed. This means that we also need to change the laws, so that the artists will get their equal share and people can enjoy music or movies not only legally but ethically.

The reforms are for now, however, only in the planning phase. While waiting for Ansip, whose last biggest IT achievement was creating a Twitter account, to create legislation that is good for both the artists and the consumers, visit a record store and buy some albums of unknown bands under unknown labels. The big ones get their wages anyhow.


Talvike Mändla is an Estonian graduate with a degree in Special Education. She is currently volunteering on a one-year placement in Zugdidi, Georgia. You can read more of here work on her blog.


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