How will piracy influence the situation of the European film market? Can we effectively fight the phenomenon of illegal sharing of content? What mechanisms are needed to protect and support the cultural variety of the European cinema? What will the future of film distribution look like? We have tried to answer those and some other questions during the European Film Conference which took place on December 9, 2016 in Wrocław.

To recall British producer David Puttnam’s words, there are always some changes but they still, invariably, surprise us. During the opening of the “European Cinematography and the Challenges of Piracy and of Digital Reality” conference Antonio Saura admitted that the current changes are, indeed, surprising for many of us. He believes the subject matter of the conference to be extremely important as the discussed changes have and will continue to have an impact on the way we consume films. Cinematography is now facing the challenge of dynamic changes in the way viewers watch films. As illegal sources are very easily accessible, there is often no reflection on the consequences of actions undertaken in the virtual reality. “When we talk about a film, we ought to remember that it is someone’s work, intellectual property, which has taken time to produce and the illegal use of which is a theft,” noted Teresa Wierzbowska, the President of the Management Board of Stowarzyszenie Sygnał (English: Signal Association). “Many users pay for access to portals which publish content illegally. They do not realize that they pay an illegal intermediary and not the creators. That is why it is so important to raise consciousness,” said Professor Elżbieta Traple.  “Piracy and the availability of illegal sources result in decreased income on this market and, consequently, in a lower number of productions,” said Renata Pawłowska-Pyra from the Polish Film Institute, as she presented its actions against piracy and on behalf of organizations which protect copyright holders’ interests.

Fighting piracy requires, nowadays, coordinated actions for blocking access to illegal content, preventing the profitability of such operations, effectively enforcing intellectual property rights, and educating people by way of designing and organizing educational campaigns, providing appropriate training programs for businesses and relevant authorities, and finding new ways to detect violations.

Generally speaking, we have to deal with the problem of how to adapt the European law on the online publication of audiovisual materials to the situation on the market. The Internet knows no boundaries but the online markets in the European Union are still fragmented due to the existence of many barriers. The changing nature of business models in the world of digital technologies requires an adjustment of the copyright law to the new reality so as to meet the expectations of both creators and consumers. “When it comes to culture consumption, our habits have changed a lot,” said Ángeles Gonzáles-Sinde, a screenwriter and a former Spanish Minister of Culture.

“We do not have uniform copyright for the European Union, which would be binding in the whole system regardless of national laws; only some solutions, related to substantive law, have been harmonized,” explained Professor Elżbieta Traple. The current actions of the European Parliament are aimed at ensuring consumers unlimited access to online content bought within the framework of a subscription, regardless of of the member state they are in at a given moment.

“Europe does not set any terms on the VoD market. I wonder if there is any chance for us to be able to take the initiative or maybe we will be forced to adapt to the existing conditions?” asked Marcin Kamiński, responsible for the development and business strategy of the platform.

“As regards distributors of the European festival films, most of the income comes from cinema distribution. VoD provides a maximum of 7% of the income in the case of bigger productions and next to no profit in the case of smaller ones. If we broke that pattern and films would be available everywhere, then, in the long term, valuable films would disappear,” opined Jakub Duszyński – the Co-president of the Europa Distribution network – reflecting on the threats related to the digital market.

One of the most important elements of the development and protection of the European film industry is its consolidation by creating systems of support and financial incentives. Such systems allow for the growth of the creative branch and make it easier for producers to find partners within the European Union and to make films capable of competing against the dominant Hollywood productions. Today the Polish Film Institute and Regional Film Funds provide systemic support in Poland. “The RFFs have co-financed over 300 film productions for the last 8 years. Year by year they gain popularity,” acknowledged Rafał Bubnicki, the Director of the Film Fund of the Dolnośląskie Voivodeship (Polish: Dolnośląski Fundusz Filmowy). The beneficiaries of the funds are not only Polish creators but also foreign producers of films made in Poland. 

We are among only 7 European countries in which there is no system of financial incentives for attracting more foreign co-producers capable of using the potential of the Polish market which boasts both great locations and highly professional resources in terms of technical aspects and specialist services in many film sectors.

“We are very much in need of that link. It is becoming more and more difficult to finance films and, despite the well-developed system of the so-called soft money, that is, financing from various kinds of funds, it is becoming harder to make films. An incentive system is an additional source of financing and has a great impact on the development of a national film industry,” Ewa Puszczyńska, expressing the hope that Poland would soon join countries which offer that type of support.

Financial incentives are not so much a support mechanism for culture as an economic tool. It is either a tax solution consisting in some kind of preferential treatment for people who finance film production or a provision for the return of filmmaking-related expenses. First, then, there is external financing and later some part of it returns to the person who has decided to produce a film. Such support helps the industry grow, creates jobs, and facilitates the exchange of know-how. “That type of support will have a long-term impact,” emphasized Alicja Grawon-Jaksik, the Director of the National Chamber of Audiovisual Producers (Polish: Krajowa Izba Producentów Audiowizualnych).

The topics covered during the conference are important from the point of view of the European Parliament which prepares new legal solutions, of EU member states, and of creators who are forced to look for effective measures to counteract the violations of copyrights as well as for new ways of reaching viewers.

“People do not download illegal copies of films because they want to do something illegal. They do it because they want to watch that film. It means that there is a positive element we can capitalize on: people want to watch films. What is more, 80% of the films downloaded illegally from the Internet are films made in the last 3 years. We need a model of offering people access to those films when they want to see them,” stipulated Michał Chaciński, a producer and film critic.

The “European Cinematography and the Challenges of Piracy and of Digital Reality” conference was an important forum for discussing the use of Internet film resources in the digital era. Participants’ voices were heard clearly the day before the ceremony of the European Film Awards, the most prestigious awards for European filmmakers. “I am sure that cinemas will survive, just like opera does or other forms of entertainment. 360° and 3D films, and the fact that you go to the cinema with other people, are, in my view, sufficient reasons for the cinema to survive,” said Antonio Saura.

The conference was attended by representatives of the film industry as well as film lovers and creators. Also present were ambassadors of the Legal Culture Foundation – artists actively participating in actions undertaken by the foundation – Joanna Kulig, Zbigniew Zamachowski, Joanna Jabłczyńska, Magda Kumorek, Piotr Adamczyk, Szymon Warszawski, and Anna Dereszowska who expressed the hope that the event will be the beginning of a new tradition: “the Legal Culture Foundation has not marked the conference as the first one but we do hope to have number two, three…”