European Commissioner Michel Barnier's MIDEM Speech Targets Digital Infrastructure, Google
Photo courtesy of MIDEM

European Commissioner Michel Barnier used the platform of Midem on day two made a pledge to remove barriers and build a better pan-European digital infrastructure. And he wants – needs – the wider-music biz to support his mission.

Words and the promises of action are nothing new to stakeholders in the European creative industries. Since online music distributors began sprouting-up at Midem during the early 2000s, the key issues of cross-border access and licensing restrictions, and plain old technology have never been far from the agenda. Barnier’s speech, however, carried weight. His heavyweight panelists agreed. And, importantly, a timeframe has been applied to see real change.

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At the beginning of December, the Commission – at his behest – launched the “licenses for Europe” initiative, which by the end of 2013 calls for a structured dialog between all stakeholders in the industry to find-short-term practical and operational answers to these problems.

In Cannes today, Barnier demonstrated a sophisticated understanding of the complexities of the European digital marketplace and its music community, and where it sits in the economy.

“Europeans are often frustrated at not being able to access content. The [situtation] has dramatically improved in the last three years, but there are instances of restrictions which Europeans have to suffer – the availability of music, and unavailability of some websites is still uneven between some member states.” He continued, “the single market is still quite fragmented. Thirty percent of record sales around the world have taken place online and increased 8% last year. It’s incomprehensible that Europeans are still facing obstacles on the Internet that we’ve faced in the physical world for the last 50 years.”

According to Barnier, music is of “economic importance. People in Europe listen to 2 hours of music a day, it contributes 6 billion euros, and there are 500 million consumers. We need to understand the market, need to get to know it.”

He continued, “Our vision of Europe can’t be constructed in an office in Brussels, it has to be built brick by brick out in the field. These consultation procedures we’re launching aren’t artificial, it isn’t simple window dressing.”

He later added, “We’re fighting for a united Europe, not a uniform Europe. They’re not the same thing. The living breathing Europe will soon be 28 countries (when Croatia becomes a member on July 1), the different countries each want to retain regional identity. This is about respecting diversity, not imposing views on others.”

All parties in this, he reiterated, need to come to “a concrete solution by end of year.”

Barnier is the first Frenchman to serve as European Commission for International Market & Services for the EC and is the politician in his position first to address the music industry at MIDEM.

Principle Management founder Paul McGuinness, and a serial firestarter from MIDEM panels past, was encouraged by the remarks. He used the session to place pressure on Google to up its copyright game. “Google is going to be the biggest distribution of all,” he said, though there’s “a sense of unease” with the Internet search giant. “Google have been making encouraging noises about restricting illegal sites or directing to illegal music sites. Those noises are encouraging. But I’d like to see some action. Google has done so much for civilization in terms of knowledge and informing the world. But they are making their money from directing people to piracy sites. I’m not wanting to Google bash. But there is a sense of unease that they’re not really doing what they could be doing in this space, and I’d like them to hurry up a little.”

When McGuinness was asked what the ideal European marketplace would look like, he responded, “don’t fix things that aren’t broken. I’d like to see Google introduce micropayment systems. They’ve got the stuff, the know-how, to do it.”

Also during the debate, Andrew Jenkins, executive VP, Asia Pacific region and industry affairs for Universal Publishing International, gave his unanimous support for the Global Repertoire Database, an on-going project which promises to make the licensing process more certain.

“Paying 50 million euros doesn’t seem a lot to create a database when you consider the 6 billion European business each year (that the industry generates).” The GRD is on course for a 2015 launch. “In Europe, we have to get the infrastructure right,” Jenkins added. “We had 200 years of national licensing, and in last seven years, multi-territory licensing. There’s a lot of ground to make up.”