The Members of European Parliament voted for the local content quotas on online media platforms. But, did Europe have this quota when its culture was prosperous, like during the Renaissance?
The Louvre has collected cultural relics from around the world, a great majority of them are not originally French. Despite its international collection, this museum has become one of the most prominent cultural symbols of France and attracts approximately 8 million visitors per year. Interestingly, there is a common behavior among these tourists regardless of their nationality; most of them only visit one specific attraction. This object of great attention is the Mona Lisa, painted by the internationally-renowned Italian artist Leonardo da Vinci. For the vast majority of these visitors, the nationality of this painting has little importance.
Why is the Mona Lisa the most popular attraction in the Louvre? Some argue that it is the most renowned piece of art by Leonardo da Vinci, thus worthy of such popularity. Others point out that the work has exceptional qualities. Maybe the answer is neither. According to James Zug, the Mona Lisa was relatively unknown until its high-profile heist in 1911. This painting only became a world-renowned piece following the massive media frenzy over its disappearance and discovery.
If the reasons for the Mona Lisa’s popularity are da Vinci’s name value and the exceptional quality of the painting, then “the rule of origin” of the work should be carefully considered as an explainer. Da Vinci moved to France in 1516 where he enjoyed the hospitality of King Francis I. But, what if the Mona Lisa was painted entirely in Italy before 1516? If we go by today’s standards, it would be considered as a “made in Italy” product. Such a label means that the Italian patronage is as important as the name and exceptional skill of da Vinci. By contrast, what if he began to paint the Mona Lisa before 1516 and continued to work on it later in France? Again by today’s standards, both Italian and French patronages — hence a Franco-Italy coproduction — would be understood as critical elements as well as his name and skill. Finally, what if the whole work was completed in France? Here it would be labeled as a “made in France” product. In this respect, the King’s patronage and appreciation of da Vinci’s artistic skills should be highlighted as important factors as well as da Vinci himself.
At this stage, a clear distinction must be made between the modern nation-state and a sixteenth-century kingdom. During that time, the audiences for art works were mostly members of the royal family, figures of nobility, and rich merchants. In this environment, the king would be regarded as both a consumer and a patron; in our time, the public has both of these functions. Thus, the notion of patronage needs to be carefully distinguished from the practice of public protectionist measures such as import restrictions, subsidies, or constraints on local content in today’s nation-states. Yet, as we have seen, regardless of the origin of patronage, da Vinci was able to produce an exceptional quality work. Is then the nationality of the work really important for cultural contents?
Surprisingly, the answer seems to be “yes” for the majority of the MEPs who backed plans to enforce a minimum local content quota on all online media platforms, such as Amazon Prime and Netflix. This legislation will require at least 30 percent of all content to be European productions. However, simply having this quota does not guarantee protection for this audio-visual sector or induce subscribers to watch their contents. Like the visitors of the Louvre, the audience does not care about the origin of the content as long as it is well-made and entertaining.
If these MEPs truly wish to do something about Europe’s cultural industries, they should seek out more effective methods; for example, improving the environment — like what the French and Italian patrons provided to da Vinci and other artists — where the unique talent of individuals can be enhanced to a globally-competitive level. Furthermore, they could collaborate with these online media platforms to achieve mutual benefits, instead of pushing them into the corner and imposing constraints on their activities. The vote of the MEPs on October 2 seems to be counter-productive and can create a similar effect as a high-profile heist. However, unlike the Mona Lisa heist in 1911, cultural contents will not benefit, rather it will be the media giants like Amazon and Netflix who will be the winners from this action in Europe.
In watching what the MEPs have done, Mona Lisa keeps silent with her mysterious smile. But is she smiling or laughing at the vote?
* This work was supported by Laboratory Program for Korean Studies through the Ministry of Education of Republic of Korea and Korean Studies Promotion Service of the Academy of Korean Studies (AKS-2015-LAB-2250003).”
 In fact, during his time, Italy was not the unified country we know of today, rather it consisted of many city-states and principalities.