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There is an interesting court case underway concerning the remuneration of an author that is attracting interest on both sides of the Atlantic.
Harry Shearer, a composer and co-writer behind the cult film “This is Spinal Tap” (among many, many others) is taking Vivendi’ Universal Music Group and Studio Canal to court (interviewed in Le Monde on 1st December 2016) seeking 125 million dollars in compensatory and punitive damages for unpaid royalties from the exploitation of the film.
These cases are striking examples of the many problems that screenwriters and directors face. Even those authors who are able to negotiate fair deals often find it difficult to enforce them or have any visibility on whether the reporting received is accurate. This isn’t about demonising producers, they’re not bad by nature and they play a vital role in the financing and production process. It is about ensuring that screenwriters and directors, who negotiate their contracts before filming is even guaranteed, are connected economically to their works for the duration of their exploitation.
It is rare for an individual creator to go to court, the risks of ruining relationships and being blacklisted are very real. As demonstrated in our Infographic, they are facing very big players.
In its proposal for a Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market presented on 14 September 2016, the European Commission proposes to generalise an exploitation transparency obligation (authors should receive on a regular basis information on the exploitation of their works) and a contract adjustment mechanism for authors considering that the remuneration originally agreed is disproportionately low compared to the revenues derived from the exploitation of the work. These are welcome provisions to start addressing the issue even if they need some amendments to ensure that they deliver the intended effect and are not easily avoided.
However, is it really the solution? Going to court each time the audiovisual industry neglects or ignores the authors’ right to be connected economically to the exploitation of their works? At SAA, we believe that another solution is possible, in particular for the online exploitation. Audiovisual authors urgently need a EU legal basis for remuneration schemes providing them with income for the online exploitation of their works across Europe. SAA calls for the introduction in the proposed Directive of an unwaivable and inalienable right to remuneration for audiovisual authors that would be collected and distributed by collective management organisations from the online platforms who distribute audiovisual works to the public. It is now up to the Council (Member States) and the European Parliament to introduce this proposal to ensure that the digital challenges of audiovisual authors are also addressed by this Directive.
It will be very interesting to see how Harry Shearer’s case plays out and how the European legislators will strengthen the situation of screenwriters and directors in Europe so this sort of thing doesn’t happen.
Europe is in the process of changing legislation on authors’ rights / copyright in Europe. The texts refer to the need for sector specific solutions for authors in different sectors.
This is also the starting point for SAA’s infographic on audiovisual authors’ remuneration (available in English, French, German and Spanish with a video here). The infographic focuses on screenwriters and directors but, as is often the case in Europe, the situation is a little bit more complicated than that.
So who are the authors of an audiovisual work?
In the countries where SAA has members, this means that directors, screenwriters and music composers are always audiovisual authors. Given that composers have their rights managed by music societies, SAA focusses on the needs of:
But, as shown above, in some countries other contributors, e.g. the director of photography or the costume designer can be an audiovisual author too.
Together, SAA’s members manage rights for
Not only are these the people behind our favourite films, documentaries and TV series, but they are also at the source of Europe’s creativity as well as its cultural and linguistic diversity. Some examples:
See SAA’s infographic [FR, ES], and keep an eye on this blog to find out more about the working lives of audiovisual authors and the challenges they face.
Ahead of the European Commission’s copyright announcements, SAA today publishes its infographic on audiovisual authors’ remuneration.
The Commission has made many calls to improve authors’ remuneration. It now seems that they are satisfied with a transparency triangle of 1) exploitation transparency, 2) contract adjustment mechanism, 3) an alternative dispute resolution mechanism. As we have already said, this transparency triangle is certainly not a bad thing and is an absolute minimum. Were the transparency triangle to lose a corner then it would be useless. But it is not direct remuneration. It is not money in the pockets of creators from day 1.
SAA’s remuneration infographic gathers together the results from various studies from across Europe. While screenwriters and directors are the original rightsholders behind our favourite films, documentaries and TV series, it seems that across Europe they are being disconnected from ongoing remuneration based on the exploitation of their works. Worse still, less creators are able to make a living solely from their creative endeavours and more are being asked to work for free.
Both the Commission and the Parliament have recognised this is a problem but, if the leaks are anything to go by, the proposal doesn’t tackle the underlying problem – a weak negotiating position.
Often freelancers, working in isolation, screenwriters and directors are not well placed to defend their own interests against very big and increasingly vertically integrated players with billions of Euros in turnover. The lump sum contracts that authors are increasingly asked to sign, or even the good contracts with planned ongoing remuneration that some authors are able to negotiate but not enforce, won’t be fixed by a law that leaves the authors alone to enforce their rights.
Screenwriters and directors need to be able to act collectively to enforce their rights. There is a real fear that individuals who stand up for their rights are marked as trouble makers and can be blacklisted. The Dutch and German laws that include best-seller clauses both enable collective action. Without it, any such provision is practically useless unless an author at the end of their career can be found to set a precedent.
The infographic shows how essential it is for authors to act collectively to create the conditions for fair remuneration for their works throughout Europe. This is why the Commission’s copyright proposal can make a concrete and positive response to the authors, through the recognition of the unwaivable right to compensation for all European authors as presented in SAA’s 2015 white paper.
Europe has a strong tradition of producing great story tellers, SAA’s infographic tries to tell their story and show how Europe can keep them telling stories in the digital future.
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