European Union FlagBritain’s film and television industries are fighting back against the European Union’s plans to equalize the prices and availability of digital entertainment across EU countries.
Representatives from the UK’s major broadcasters, film studios and independent TV producers, including the BBC, are forming a lobby group to present a united front against the proposal. They claim changing copyright laws, a key part of the European Commission’s digital single market strategy, will cripple their ability to finance productions.

“We are absolutely of one mind that this is probably the single biggest threat to our ability to make high-quality content in the UK,” said John McVay, chief executive of Pact, which represents the UK’s independent producers.

Their concerns have been echoed by media companies across Europe. Trade groups in Italy, Belgium, Poland, Greece, Sweden and the Netherlands have written to Brussels to voice their objections. At the Cannes Film Festival, filmmakers have also criticised the initiative.

The British film & TV industry generated £340 million from sales to European countries over the past year, more than any other territory except the US, according to consultancy TRP Research. Their businesses depend on selling the same programmes and films to different markets and across different platforms.

“The digital single market completely pulls the rug out from under our financing,” McVay said.

The British companies will be seeking meetings with the those involved in the project in Brussels in the coming months: Andrus Ansip, the Commission’s vice president for the digital single market; Günther Oettinger, the commissioner for digital economy and society; Robert Madelin, the senior civil servant responsible or the digital agenda; and Martin Selmayr, chief of staff for Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

Senior figures from the UK’s TV and film industries have met four times to discuss a combined response to the proposals, McVay said. The new lobby group, yet to be named, will commission an economic study to bolster their case.

Other European producers expressed their concerns at the Cannes Film Festival last week. Anders Kjaerhauge, an executive at Zentropa, a Scandinavian producer whose credits include Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac, told an industry event he is worried that in their push to boost Europe’s digital economy, officials in Brussels are “beginning to cut down one of the legs of the entertainment industry.”

Pre-sell rights across Europe account for up to 60 percent of the budget of some productions. Without that source of funding, Kjaerhauge said his company may have to pull out of making its own pictures and merely act as a distributor.

Martin Smith, a policy adviser to Ingenious, a British investment group that has financed films including Selma, said that creative businesses would be “commercially unsustainable” if they can’t negotiate exclusive arrangements in different territories.

Oettinger, in a blog post before the festival, said he doesn’t want to scrap the sale of territorial rights or impose pan-European licenses. The commissioner met filmmakers including Michel Haznavicius, director of The Artist, in Cannes to try to allay their concerns. He will meet with filmmakers again in the autumn, according to the commission.

McVay said British companies have heard mixed messages and the latest “warm words” from Oettinger are not enough.

The UK producers were horrified by the UK government’s last position on the EU’s digital single market. The UK agreed that consumers should be able to access content “on fair and reasonable terms across borders” and that prices for digital products “should not change unfairly on the basis of where consumers come from in the EU.”

They hope the key ministers in Prime Minister David Cameron’s new cabinet — Sajid Javid, the business secretary, and John Whittingdale, who will head the department for culture, media and sport — will be sympathetic to the entertainment industry.

Whittingdale, for example, has made numerous speeches in Parliament in recent years supporting their position on copyright. But the media companies are taking nothing for granted.

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By Expat