Posts Tagged authors

Who are Europe’s audiovisual authors ?

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.




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Between a rock and a hard place

The recent report by Green Pirate MEP Julia Reda really hammers home how the polarisation of the authors’ rights/ copyright debate has made it difficult for creators to talk about the future of their industry.  The latest blog post by Ms Reda asserts as much, too.

If authors defend their rights, they are anti-progress suffering from some sort of Stockholm syndrome for their industry oppressors.  If authors’ defend improving availability of works, they support the weakening of their European business partners and ultimately their ability to make films.

What’s an author to do?

Look at the recent case of independent musician Zoe Keating in the States.  As an individual artist, who has deliberately eschewed record labels to have control of her work and its distribution (she uploaded her own albums to torrent sites), she has no power to negotiate with an operator like Google’s You Tube.

Some creative works, like audiovisual works, sit in a special place between industry and culture.  It’s what makes policy making in this area complex.  It’s what puts creators in a difficult place when negotiating contracts – do I risk being unable to make my film by negotiating harder?  Do I risk never working with a producer again by criticising them for not remunerating me properly?

It also puts them in a difficult position in the copyright debate.  Ask a creator “would you rather your works were available across Europe or just in some countries?” – They will answer, “Across Europe, of course.” They also want them subtitled and dubbed for all the languages too, though.  Ask them if they would prefer people to watch their new film on the big screen or a computer screen and they would answer that they of course prefer a large number of cinemas to release it. But some would also be happy to offer VOD experience to remote areas with no cinemas. Ask them if they mind someone making a mash-up using their work, they’d probably say of course not.  But ask that permission be required to ensure their moral rights are respected, and their work can’t be used in a way they feel inappropriate.

These questions are not that simple for individual creators to answer. If you add the industrial reality of their sector, it does not simplify it at all.

The industrial side of the sector, the part that looks for investment and to cover financial risk, means pan-European distribution is not the norm for European works.  The marketing around films is still, for the most part, focussed around the cinema release with success driving subsequent value.  Mash-ups or remixes that disrespect a work or make money (either for the remixer or remix hosting service) without sharing those revenues with the other creators need legal recourse.

Does this debate really oppose consumers against rightsholders? There are many companies who also stand to benefit financially from reducing the value and scope of licences for creative works.  These companies claim to defend consumer choice and squeeze the creative value chain in order to provide lower prices. As always, those squeezed the most are at the bottom of the chain.

Audiovisual works are expensive to make.  Investment is already difficult to find. Creators want to create, they want their works to find an audience.  But creation does not happen in a vacuum.  Creators without collective power are lost against their industry partners and the new online gatekeepers to their audience.

Weakening the weakest link in the chain seems an odd place to start in achieving a European Digital Single Market.


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Remuneration and audiovisual works online

September in Brussels is always a funny thing.  August (despite the best efforts of the Commission to publish proposals and reports at the end of July) slows down completely, lulling you into a feeling of false preparedness (if there is such a word) for the months ahead.  Then September hits you.  Proposals here, Declarations there, conferences this day, board meetings the next.  The whirlwind grabs you.

All this is a very long way of introducing a very significant event that took place last month that I’ve been meaning to write about for a while.

The European Parliament adopted a resolution on the Online Distribution of Audiovisual Works on 11th September (read the full text here) and SAA joined a number of organisations in congratulating the European Parliament and its rapporteur Jean-Marie Cavada on the end result.

To see the European Parliament adopt such a united position on a text that includes a whole section on remuneration of audiovisual authors is extremely encouraging.  The text calls for an end to buyout contracts and the strengthening of the negotiation position of authors and performers.  Let’s hope the European Commission’s report that will follow up on this picks up these points as they are essential to the future of online.

I think we have to recognise that one of the key arguments that is used to justify illegal access to audiovisual works online is that whatever happens, the authors of the film (or any other creative work for that matter) aren’t really paid and that the money goes to companies.  If we are going to encourage the younger generations (who have grown up with free online access to films and TV shows) to pay, then part of the solution is in convincing them that the creative people behind the films they love get paid.  This isn’t a criticism of the intermediary companies that make up our industry, they play an essential and often poorly understood role.  It is however a wake up call that they cannot allow this perception to continue.

The same could be said to apply to collective rights management organisations (one of the suggested support structures for better deals for screenwriters and directors in the Cavada report) and I hope that the proposal for a Directive from the Commission will reinforce their vital role for creators.  However there is no legislative procedure on the table to address the problems identified in the European Parliament resolution.  Either this is something that the Commission should consider or the actors themselves should take the initiative and support the sustainability of the whole sector through a rebalanced sharing of the success of creative works.

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Private copying – dark art or just fair remuneration

At a rather one-sided event in Brussels last week I heard private copying referred to as a “dark art” that almost nobody really understands.  A ridiculously biased comment.

Let me try and shed light on this “dark art”. 

When we refer to private copying, we are often shortening from private copying remuneration.  Private copying remuneration is what rightholders (be they directors, screenwriters, record labels, film producers) receive to compensate them for the private copies that have been made of their works.  For many authors, private copying remuneration is a valuable source of income in between projects. One of SAA’s members distributed an average of 13,000€ to its top 100 authors in 2010. Not an insignificant amount.

Europe being Europe, each country has set up its own systems for private copying.  The technology industries have long taken issue with the variations that this creates from country to country and after breaking off discussions two years ago have set about trying to dismantle the private copying system through court actions and political lobbying.  I’m sure they have to deal with many other national variations (on areas like taxation) and on a merely anecdotal level, it doesn’t seem like private copying levies have impacted on sales of Apple’s products over the last few years.

The rightholder organisations have remained open for discussions and were very pleased to see the Commission appoint a high level mediator to kickstart discussions on this (here).  Now that Mr Vittorino is getting ready to start his consultation process, SAA and a group of right holders organisations have been preparing themselves for what will surely be a very intense 4 month mediation period. 

We have been reassured this week by a couple of positive messages.  First of all, Wednesday saw the publication of a new study by Compass Lexecon (authored by Lorenzo, Padilla and Requejo).  It countered the arguments of a report published by Oxera (and funded by Nokia) to underline the welfare effects of private copying remuneration.   The other piece of good news was from the Dutch courts that clarified, at least for Dutch rightholders, that the private copying remuneration has to apply to devices that are used for private copying (article here).

Private copying is not a dark art.  It’s a fair way of remunerating authors and rightholders for difficult to license and monitor uses of their works. Constructive dialogue has to be the way forward and I hope that the mediator will be able to foster this and bring this long running issue to a satisfactory conclusion for everyone.


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