GERMANY: A law that will stifle creativity

In an attempt to protect the rights of creatives, the German government has proposed a Draconian copyright protection law, which has the media industry up in arms.

Like any business dealing with creativity, the advertising industry depends on a set of principles established both in law and by way of mutual respect, which enable those involved to receive proper recognition and reward for their input. Prominent among these rules is the attribution of copyright.

As media channels proliferate and the storage and transmission of content in digital formats grows, the issue of copyright protection becomes ever more complicated. Any measure designed to protect the interests of the creators of such content should therefore be welcomed. Yet one such initiative has the German publishing and advertising industries up in arms.

In June this year, a revised draft law on copyright protection passed its first reading in the German Bundestag. With its second and third readings pending, the industry has launched a joint campaign to urge legislators to reconsider the law, which – according to those behind the campaign – is likely to damage the interests of both those who create and the industry within which they work.

The principal cause of the fears – which are shared by the German newspaper publishers federation (BDZV), the magazine publishers federation (VDZ), the book publishing association (BDH), a grouping of weekly freesheet publishers (BVDA), the country’s leading advertising agency association (GWA) and prominent freelancers from across the industry – is a clause in the proposed law which affords retrospective copyright protection of up to ten years to the originator of content carried through any of these channels.

While recognising that this is a well-meant idea, the collective points out in a series of press advertisements that its effect would be the reverse of that intended. Publishers, it maintains, would become reluctant to carry the work of new, unproven authors, because it would leave them open to unquantifiable liabilities over a period of ten years. They would tend, therefore, to work with a limited set of suppliers whose rewards would be more predictable.

Advertising agencies, the GWA adds, are not obliged to source the creative and production talent necessary to produce advertisements for the German public in Germany, and the law would encourage them to source work elsewhere. As Henning von Vieregge, head of the GWA, puts it: “Whoever might be looking to cripple the workings of an innovative, internationally-active industry within Germany would pass just such a law as that currently proposed.”

Those backing the campaign feel strongly enough about it to suggest that, should the law come into force, it could signal “the end of Germany’s creative culture”. In an open letter released last week, they urge the minister behind the proposal, Herta Däubler-Gmelin, to bring her ministerial colleagues back to the table in order to evaluate the strength of the arguments expressed in their joint, industry-wide campaign, and to work together to “save what can yet be saved”. One can only wish them success.

John Shannon is president of Grey International

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