Joho the Blog » france

November 18, 2011

[avignon] President Sarkozy

They move us into the grand hall — vaulted ceilings — for a talk by Pres. Nikolas Sarkozy. Sarkozy has not exactly been a friend of the Internet. The last time I heard him talk was at LeWeb when he was a candidate. Among the three candidates who spoke there, Sarkozy’s talk was clearly the most hostile to the Internet, viewing it primarily as a site of gossip and slander.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing A SIMULTANEOUS TRANSLATION badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

President Sarkozy: I was going to give a prepared speech but instead will speak off the cuff. Never before have cultural protagonists — politicians, heads of gov’t — had to make so many efforts to come up with imaginative, new responses to the challenges that humans have never had to face before. I know my presence here surprised some observers. Why talk about culture in such a crisis? Because culture is the bedrock, and the bedrock of our response. The French response to the crisis is to invest massively in culture and anything having to do with culture. That is the French way of doing things. France believes that cultural goods are essential goods. That is the basis of the choices we have made. To live, man needs to feed himself, be healthy, and needs culture. France is the only developed country that has not cut into its cultural budgets — and around in Europe cultural budgets are being cut 20, 30, 50% — but we have increased those budgets.

I’m an optimist. The world has never needed cultural protagonists the way we do now. You give life sense, you build links, you create collective sense. The offshoot of globalization is that citizens need a sense of belonging to their country. What better way than through the adhesion to one’s culture.

Why have we had to show such boldness? Because all cultural protagonists are facing a crisis of distribution. This is a matter of extreme seriousness, if we consider — as I consider — it is no service to culture to say that it is free for all. The disappearance of traditional distribution methods threatens traditional culture itself. You used to go to a record store or a DVD store. That is shattered. So, we have to reengineer a viable economic model from A to Z. This is not simply a matter of imaging. You have to be courageous. I will be blunt. I have always believed that there would be no form of creation if there were no longer to be respect for upholding and respect for copyright and author’s rights. This is of the essence and shapes all the rest.

Bon Marche invented the very concept of author’s rights. A musician has ownership over the music he writes. An author has ownership over the book he publishes. To deny the ownership of artists on their work amounts to negating all forms of creation. What was the status of creators before they had ownership? They were simply court jesters. Those were the lucky ones. Your predecessors long ago might find a benefactor who fell in love with a particular musician’s works and would protect him. What enabled artists to break out of that yoke? What give musicians and writers independence and freedom? What enabled them to recovery their ownership. Copyright. The idea that you could live on the benefits of what you created. There is no independence when you rely exclusively on the genersoity of benefactors.

I am determined not to accept that a tech revolution, even as positive as the Net in other respects, should call into question the ownership rights of a creator over his or her works. To challenge that is to acknowledge anuy economy of culture.

Why is it so complex? I remember the 2005-6 debate where people on my side said you shouldn’t defend these ideas even if they’re right because youth will rise up against you. But one should not renounce one’s beliefs simply because you have to explain things to people before you persuade them. I even had people say I would lose this election if I did not understand this extraordinary revolution that has turned all on its head. We imposed, against much resistance, legislation (HADOPI) against piracy and to protect author’s rights.

I don’t want there to be any ambiguity, so I want to respond to those who ultimately believed what I believe, but decided not to defend a just idea for political reasons.

First, I was indeed elected as president. One can uphold copyright without alienating the majority of people. People are down to earth and can understand if you explain it.

Second, I was told I lost that war. Piracy is part of people’s lives, I was told. When I saw certain sites where daily newspapers were offering their articles free and people weren’t buying the paper any more. How little respect you have for what you do! And how stupid to think that people would pay for what they would get for free. Within a few months of HADOPI, there was a 35% drop in privacy, so the battle wasn’t lost. The internet society has to be guided by rules, just as real society is. The great USA went about it our way. NZ, S Korea likewise. The battle is not lost.

Now we have to tackle the streaming web sites and there is no reason not to do so. What was ambiguous was that p2p pirating was based on an ideology that was based on an initially positive ideology: sharing. The approach wasn’t in and of itself negative. On streaming sites the ideology of sharing has gone out the window; they’re about making money.

They claimed I’m a fanatic. But HADOPI is just a means to an end. Tech is evolving, so the law must too. All we want to do is protect author’s rights. Once the principle of protecting author’s rights is enshrined, why not?

And at the Digital E8, I said lets invite the Net giants to talk with us. I was told that they’d think we’re trying to gag them. When you invite people to talk, you’re not gagging them. So, we sat down and talked, and there was no tension. The idea is not to protect our backyard but to pull these worlds together. The Net revolution is a phenomenally positive development, but we need to talk. And to utter the forbidden word: Taxation. [Google pays no taxes in France.] I cannot accept that these companies pay no taxes in France. You can’t have all your clients in one customer and your team in another customer, and pay taxes ina third country where the taxes are the lowest.

We can support this Net revolution while still talking with Google, Zuckerberg, Microsoft, and talk about author’s rights, taxations, the fact that the latest Marakesh bombing was done by someone who discovered how to make a home-made bomb on the Internet.

In our mind, there isn’t an opposition between the Net world and cultural world. There is a need to get together, speak the same language, lay the foundations for an economy that is viable for Net giants and creators and that doesn’t ruin what the creators create. Culture is an investment that will get us out of this crisis, not a mere expenditure that one can cut back on. Culture is not a luxury. So, I felt it my duty to be here you in this beautiful city, even though there are heavier burdens to shoulder.

Q: I’m a Bollywood actress and writer. I am French. I am also Indian. Completely both. For me culture means the ability to choose among our own passions, and not the ideas that are fashionable. For this we need cultural diversity. So: What is culture?
A: For me, culture is meaning. “Culture is the response one gets when one wonders what one is doing on Earth?” [He’s quoting someone I couldn’t get.] What gives our life meaning. There is a spiritual and cultural answer to this. Culture is the only area in which there is no notion of progress because culture is the only way man has found to better his condition. When you go to L’escaux Caves you realize it’s the Sistine Chapel of the time — the same sense of transcendence, getting man out of the Kantian chains that bind us. If I take off my head of state cap, I would simply say that culture is an investment. France welcomes 20M tourists a year. What would France be without its culture? If I look at it as a politician, culture is what binds a society. It is the lifeblood. It is why men and women do not know one another share common emotions. Without culture there is no sense of nationhood. If I were to speak as a reader or listener, culture is emotion. A special sort of emotion experience by the composer or writer, but that has universal value. The more personal the feelings expressed, the more unique, the more universal. And, to come around full circle, how can you define culture as what it is not. It is not that extra bit of soul — I hate that expression — for the well-fed society that can afford it. It is not part of the whole. It is the whole. From culture you achieve cohesiveness. You don’t have life and then the spangle of culture. Culture is our identity. Finally, what is culture not? It is the very opposite of sectarianism, of the accepted dogma, of conservativism, of the sheep mentality, of the Pavlovian reflex, of the automatic geographical alignment, of the concern for image at whatever cost.

Q: I am an American anthropologist from India. It is music to my ears to hear that music is a necessity. If there were no investment in culture, my discipline would disappear, which would not be a sorry for the world, but would be for us anthropologists. When you make it clear that culture is a non-negotiable priority even or especially in this time of fiscal crisis, how can make this argument in other countries? Can you draw on your experience with other locations?

A: Need only look at what has happened throughout the world. When the Spanish steel industry was swept around, the city of Bilbao was ruined because its economy rested on it. They made a tremendous wager, betting on architectural quality (Frank Gehry) and culture (Guggenheim Museum). Bilbao generates 220 million euros because of this. Bilbao was saved by cultural investment. When Germany reunited, they decided that the capital would be in Berlin, and built an exceptional capital. Culture is what Berlin has to offer. They’ve had a time attracting companies to Berlin, so real estate prices have stayed low, attracting artists. But 13% of the jobs in Berlin are in the arts and culture. Liverpool’s response in the crisis was to invest massively in cultural terms, and it worked. The cities of the Ruhr are another example. I have had to make painful decisions in Moselle [?] and Metz [spelling!] where 30% of jobs were military. We had to redeploy bases and barracks once my predecessor, Chirac, abolished compulsory military service. So, we abolished military jobs. The implications were colossal. So, we decided to build the Bourbon [?] Center in Metz. It received more than one million visitors. We’re going to dig our heels on this. We’re going to build a Louvre in Lens [?], which has suffered two brutal revolutions: the collapse of the mining industry and the textile crisis. That will project will be a success. We’ll have the museum of the Mediterranean in Marseilles. The Impressionists housed in the ___ museum, the dream I have is of a magnificent museum in Normandy. When the crisis befell us, we came up with a plan to relaunch the economy which included 400B euros worth of additional money for culture. I think there were 83 cathedrals needed to be restored, of hwihc 50 have been restored. And the living arts! Art is always living art — people go on stage and perform. We have not touched one penny of that money. It is our certainty that the best way to respond to the crisis is to invest in culture, just as in aerospace. And if you look at the history of art, creation has never been better than in countries that feel good about themselves. The two phenomena are intimately interconnected. When I look at French cinema, I think Thank heavens our predecessors set up systems that I have done everything to protect. That’s why the French film industry is not in the situation of some of our neighbors that have seen their film industries go down the drain. I may be bold but I have a sense of risk.

Q: [A film maker – Vanya [?]] Barbara Hendricks this morning said that art is as important as air and water, and you said the same. I am a member of Culture and Diversity. Our goal is create cultural opportunities for poor kids. We want to bring them toward art and art schools, but often the importance of art is often quite removed from their lives. They receive art passively through tv, internet and films. But they have little opportunity to be active. What can we do?

A: Look at the extraordinary way the US puts films, music, etc., at service of their economic interests. The brands take root. I’m not saying it’s deliberate, but it works. There’s a steamrolling effect. The generosity of French artists and film directors is equaled elsewhere. We are very happy to screen American films and show American artworks. We do want our American friends to remember that there are other countries. That’s another debate. Reciprocity has to exist in the cultural industry. Beyond exchange. We have to be able to defend this principle. It’s not just the under-privileged. The privileged don’t always appreciate culture. We want to use this extraordinary instrument — the 5,000 colleges in France — to create the new audiences for opera, theater, film, etc. We have started a program where we by the rights to 200 films and make them available to all these colleges. This was not a way of competing with the film industry, but the idea was that if you start watching films in college, you will continue as an adult. We have 264 national theaters, 600 theater troupes, a huge reservoir of plays. But where are the audiences? I’d like to see these plays, once they have toured, to go to the colleges and schools, to shape and form the audiences of tomorrow. Take opera. The cost of a seat is pretty prohibitive, yet the operas are full. I’d like to buy up the rights to these operas and enable these shows to play in schools and colleges. Then there are underprivileged. We’re taking an initiative bringing exhibitions…going out to meet the people. In one case only 19% had ever been in a museum. We’re trying to decentralize, e.g., the Mobile Pompidou exhibition. It’s a simple stage under a tent so people aren’t intimidated. Suddenly they lay their eyes on a Picasso. Can you imagine the effect? That work of art now is not foreign. It’s part of one’s village. Culture is too often sensed as foreign. Whatever you background, when you set your eyes on a work of art, you appreciate it. There is no pre-determinism. Art’s value should be self-evident. You walk down the street and see something beautiful. You don’t need to be told or have it explained. The more you know the more you need to be told. When it’s simply about emotion, nothing needs to be explained to you. [Wow is that false. And it’s inconsistent with his Net views. If we respond to art without training, then why hasn’t the Net clustered around works of art?]

Q: How about free access to museums?

A: I don’t think that’s the ultimate response because you don’t respect what is free. Everything has a price. Everything has a value. There has to be a bit of an effort for there to be pleasure. But we have for 18-25 and teachers access to museums should be free. The number of visits as a result of this decision: 2.7M youths have gone in. Teachers: 500K. Culture is an amazing, fantastic domain that holds true. You have to be pragmatic, generous, open-minded. I am against access to museums being free because they need to sustain themselves. But for young people and teachers this was a good move. If teachers don’t get into the habit of going to museums, how can their pupils learn.

Q: [a Swedish student] Ever since I was a child, I wanted to make a difference. First as a poet. Then wanting to become the Sect’y General of the UN. My generation was born into the Internet. We invented Facebook, Skype, and Spotify. This has changed how we communicate and interact, across borders. From my point of view, these are great developments. Culture is beautiful and is in all that we do and are. Everything that isn’t developing is degenerating. Values are changing. Why is the defense of IP fundamental in your policy? Isn’t it in opposition to access to culture you’ve stood up for? Isn’t the fight against piracy a hopeless case.

A: I see haven’t persuaded all of you. An artist who wants music to be disseminated free of charge always has that option. I am challenging the pirating of works who do not want that. Who would buy the film or music if you can access it free of charge. There is now a quite cheap offering on the market. It’s right that you should pay less for a record or CD you buy on the Internet. For music we’re going to set up a system comparable to the CNC system we set up for film. I want providers to contribute musical creation just as a certain number of actors contribute to creation in the film industry. Just as there’s a national film center (CNC) there should be a national music one, which should be partially funded by the providers. When there are no writers or music, what is your generation going to get? For music there has to be composers, for films etc. If they don’t have ownership, what will they become of them? The famous will remain in the catalog until their rights fall into the public domain. If your first film or record is not enough to live on, how will you do the second? I asked Zuckerberg — who is remarkable and I admire — if he’d like his work pinched, and he said “Of course not.” Explain to me why a famous author or film maker should have fewer rights than those who are not famous. Go ask Google or Microsoft. Don’t tell me I’m not in favor of the free market! We should fight harder for author’s rights! I think it’s beginning to sink in. I know in Sweden, regulation is a dirty word. We defend our rights, but we’re not refusing the Internet. France is where the Net has developed the fastest and the most. Let us not ask the wrong questions. Illegal streaming sites are doing untold damage and I fully intend to fight them. I do not want to see profit made from the simple theft of other people’s work, just as in the national bond issue, I have earmarked a lot of money so Frederic Mitterand can digitize what are in the French national libraries. Big companies wanted to do it, but we said no. Freedom needs laws. Not too many regulations, but when there is no regulation, it is those who have the most clout and fewest scruples win.

Q: When we try to understand the current revolution, we should look back to the Printing Revolution. Technological rev is not only a change in tools, but influences all levels of culture.: distribution, production, communication, and sharing of culture. We have to rethink all aspects concurrently. We need mediation and explanation. With my students we explore other economic models, or a global license. Shouldn’t we try to reconcile technology and our culture in a period of massive piracy?

A: Yes, it’s a massive revolution, but that shouldn’t lead us to turn our backs on our democratic traditions. We have to find the right balance. On a global license: I am completely against this completely crazy idea. I believe that the identification between the author and his work is of the essence. If we all into some kind of melting pot, we are denying everything that is individual and specific. No one is defending this crazy idea. We are indeed facing challenges. E.g., digital TV that puts on the same screen the traditional, regulated services and the Internet world, which is not regulated and that does not contribute to the film industry the way the traditional services do. The latter will be stealing audience share. So we are going to have to work on how to regulate digital, connected TV era. Or, cloud computing: There again, what happens to your private copy that no longer needs to be uploaded? The battle against illegal downloading will become a matter of the past because in cloud computing there won’t be any need to download anything. But as I said initially, we’re ready to have a third or fourth version of our anti-piracy laws. We believe in protecting author’s rights and them getting individual remuneration for their work. The ways and means of doing this will change, and no one could not say that the Net is not a major step in social connection. But we don’t want our democratic principles thrown out the window. Of course we have to regulate and do it within a framework. It takes 3 mins to download a film. We want to be flexible but stick to our fundamental principles.

Q: [economist] I work on the economics of art and culture. You’ve today demonstrated how clearly you understand the connection. You’ve made the tax system a priority in your own cultural policy. The VAT on some cultural goods has risen in France. Is this consistent with your support of culture.

A: For France, the VAT on the same goods should be the same, whether hardcopy of digital versions. I understand the problems that may arise out of this for the European Commission. But as of Jan 1 2012 we’ll apply reduced VAT for hardcopy goods. Why should it be 7% on the Net and 19.6% for hardcopy. The globalization caused by the Net leads to major distortions in competition, which we cannot accept. So, I’m requesting that VAT on digital and ebooks be the same, at a reduced rate. It will be implement on Jan 1., and I hope that the European Commissioner will not come down to us too hard. This is a personal message to her. I do not understand that there should be a VAT differential to books, films, records, music, because in my mind cultural goods are the same and should have equal standing. In France cultural goods are considered to be essential goods, like food. Now, why we have increased VAT from 5.7 to 7% on cultural goods, is a way of protecting that sector; VAT in France is 19%. I cannot ask the French to tighten their belts and hear one sector complain about a rise from 5.7 to 7%. We have maintained VAT at 2.2% for living arts and press. So let no one say we’re being unfair to culture. We have protected the cultural area ferociously. We have smoothed the burden across the board. I hope the EC lets me work calmly on the record industry. I take this very seriously. Your memories are of smell and music. The systematic destruction of the music industry I cannot simply shrug off. That’s why I’m thinking about reduced VAT for music, as I’ve done for films.

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