Posts Tagged Cultural Diversity

5 years of SAA

SAA_5AASAA was created 5 years ago to represent the interests of collective management organisations (or CMOs) for audiovisual authors.  When we say audiovisual authors we specifically mean screenwriters and directors of film, TV and multimedia programmes. Music composers are also authors of audiovisual works but their rights are dealt with by music CMOs.

Being created in 2010 makes us relatively young – many other European organisations in the audiovisual sector or creative industries more broadly have been around for longer.  We have grown quickly from 9 founding members to 29 members in 22 countries.  But why was there a need to create the SAA?

The founding organisations set up the SAA because they felt that, in discussions with the European institutions, too often the issues of creators and copyright were treated through the perspective of music. This may have been because the music industry is more organised than the audiovisual sector (collective rights management is commonplace) or was the first to suffer from mass unlicensed exploitation and distribution online.  However, the two sectors, although based on the same broad principles, and both relying on authors’ rights and copyright as a foundation, function very differently and many of the issues facing the different creative sectors cannot be resolved just by fixing the problems of one sector.

We also aim to improve the understanding of how Europe’s audiovisual sector works, not only how it is different to the music sector, but also how it differs from the Hollywood studio system. Production, financing, distribution, promotion and exploitation of European films do not face the same challenges as for US studios. Our national markets and SMEs are simply not comparable to the studios, let alone the internet giants. TVs also play a crucial role in financing and supporting cultural diversity in Europe that is specific to us. Europe’s audiovisual sector is therefore extremely diverse, and so is the situation of its collective management organisations.  Some CMOs manage both screenwriters and directors’ rights, others just directors, others just screenwriters.  Some countries have competing societies, others have one single organisation for all authors irrespective of the sector.  There are many misconceptions and we would like to help rectify that while bringing transparency on the work of our members.  Our main work towards this has been through our two white papers (2011 and updated in 2015) which clearly present the diverse situation of Europe’s screenwriters, directors and their CMOs.

SAA’s main focus has been on ensuring screenwriters and directors are remunerated for the use of their work (from a legal, licensed source), something that is unfortunately not the case today.  We want film and TV fans to know that when they watch a film or TV show, that the screenwriters and directors are being paid.  One off payments at the moment a film or television programme is made cut authors out of the future success of their creative works and are contrary to the principle of authors’ rights. This has to be fixed at EU level to ensure that all European authors get remuneration wherever their works are exploited in the EU.

However, while this is our lead area of action, it is obviously not our only area of work.  We care about the general condition of the sector in which screenwriters and directors work and we also want European works to be able to circulate better across Europe.  Our joint wish-list for the new 2014 European Parliament, prepared with FERA and FSE, demonstrates the range of European issues that are important to the wellbeing of Europe’s film-makers: audiovisual policy, the regulation of internet platforms, international trade, intellectual property rights’ enforcement, etc.  A look at the last 5 years of SAA’s work also demonstrates the range of issues we work on.

Authors’ rights and copyright have been identified as priority action areas by the European Commission.  It looks like the next 5 years will be just as busy.


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Changing the perspective

The European Parliament now has 4 committees looking at the 2001 copyright Directive.  Will they all approach their evaluation the same way?  Ms Reda’s draft report only looks at the copyright framework from the users’ perspective and aims at creating rights for users to access, use and modify works without their authors and other rightholders’ consent. Such an approach takes as a starting point that works are spontaneously created by authors who do not need to make a living from their art and that the copyright system is corrupting their sharing aspiration.

This perspective is a gross (or deliberate) misunderstanding of the role of authors’ rights and copyright for the authors, performers and producers of creative works and for the economy and development of our cultural and creative sectors in Europe.

Let’s take cinematographic works as an example: a professional film has an average budget of 2.1 million euros in Europe. New technologies have not really reduced costs but it has increased creators’ tools and possibilities. As a European state aid rule, films cannot have more than 50% of their production budget financed by public funds. Producers therefore have to find private money for the remaining 50% of the production budget, as well as additional investment for the promotion, distribution and marketing of the films as there are very few public schemes to help in these fields. To do that, they usually pre-sell some territories to local distributors and/or exploitation rights to broadcasters or other platforms and gather these people and investors around a project they all believe will attract an audience.

Copyright is therefore not only what secures rightholders’ control and revenues over the exploitation, it is also essential for financing the works in the first place. In the audiovisual sector, if you cannot finance the works up front, they will not exist.

While authors and other rightholders expect their works to reach the audience through exploitation, Ms Reda proposes that works be accessible through copyright exceptions, in particular in the online environment. This means accessible without authors and other rightholders’ consent and with no possibility for them to monetize this access and consumption of their works. What do you think the impact will be? With reduced scope to recoup investment and to monetize exploitation, such measures will discourage private investors from investing in our works.  Do we expect public funds, already under significant strain, to pick up the slack? In the end, it means less money available to make films in Europe, so less possibilities for our screenwriters and directors to tell the stories of our continent.

It is therefore essential for members of the European Parliament to look at the impact of any proposed measure on copyright sector by sector and to answer this simple question: do they want to support or reduce European production and cultural diversity?


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Let’s get Europe’s audiovisual works out

And by out, we mean out there, being watched.

The dust is still settling following the agreement of the negotiation mandate for the free trade agreement between the EU and the US.

We were particularly pleased to see audiovisual services excluded from the mandate.  What was disappointing was to see this portrayed as a victory for France and French cinema.  While France was clearly the most vocal country in defending its ability to support its local cultural creators, the victory was one for European cinema.

SAA called, along with other European groupings of screenwriters, directors, producers, distributors, broadcasters, cinemas, for audiovisual to be excluded (see here).  SAA represents collective management organisations for screenwriters and directors from across Europe – not just French ones.  The same applied to the other organisations.  Europe’s patchwork of different systems and regulations from country to country has created a sophisticated support mechanism for the creation of audiovisual works, essential to maintain and enhance diversity and circulation.  As technology advances, and the internet continues to change the audiovisual landscape, European countries need to be able to adapt their support and regulation systems in a period of rapid evolution.

As we have said before, Europe’s diversity is its strength.  We should be looking to implement policies that enable European creators to seize the digital opportunities to get our works and our vision of the world out. Now that the mandate is adopted, let’s focus on doing that.

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To negotiate or not to negotiate

Last week the European Parliament made a very strong statement. By a large majority they sent a clear message to the Council and the European Commission: “Europe’s cultural exception is not negotiable”.

The line of the Commission is that everything needs to be on the table for the EU-US Free Trade Agreement (TTIP – Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, for those who love acronyms and twitter hashtags) to maximise its potential.  If the Europeans start excluding this and that, then so will the Americans.  In short, the Commission is saying:

“Everything needs to be on the table but don’t worry, we won’t actually negotiate everything.  The cultural exception definitely won’t be negotiated. Honest.”

One of the analogies that has been used is that of a game of cards and “having the best hand”.  Within such an analogy it strikes me that cultural diversity is more like the house that you are ready to gamble.  If you don’t want to lose it, then you shouldn’t put it on the table.

Europe’s diversity is one of its key assets.  As Harvey Weinstein said while defending the cultural exception in Cannes “Great business is by being different”.  But it comes with its own challenges.  Our cultural works don’t have automatic access to large markets.  The subject matter can even be very specific to a particular country or culture, making it difficult for a film to travel.  Subtitling is a minimum for works to cross borders and some countries won’t go for anything less than full dubbing.  But their is a clear evolution.  The breakthrough of European TV productions across Europe and beyond is proof that the complex support systems we have built are maturing.

If you want to maintain Europe’s ability to create cultural works it can shout about – sign the film-makers’ petition.

The Council votes on the negotiating mandate to be given to the Commission on the 14th June. We need to keep the pressure on.

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Diversity, of the Cultural Variety

Yesterday I attended “Culture, An Added Value For Europe”, an event (excellently) organized by the European Coalitions for Cultural Diversity in collaboration with the European Platform on the Potential of Cultural and Creative Industries and moderated by Carole Tongue, former MEP.

Given all the fuss that Megaupload, Sopa, Pipa and ACTA have caused (I’ll leave that for another post, watch this space) it was refreshing to hear a debate that focused on the cultural aspect of the works that European creators produce.

I read so much about “content”, this “de-culturalised” word for creative works.  Behind these works, these testimonies to different cultures (at different periods in time using different languages), are creators.  Their creations are not as British author Maureen Duffy put it, “cans of beans”.

The ratification of the 2005 UNESCO convention was meant to stop the EU bundling our creators’ cultural works in with the rest of its trade agreements.  However, it seems that the same people negotiate the trade agreements and the cultural cooperation agreements at exactly the same time.  Has anything changed?

There needs to be coherence in the EU’s cultural policies.  As Mr Berlinguer MEP said, “It is important that the policies of the European Union consistently respect the principals of the 2005 UNESCO Convention”.  The convention means that the cultural impact should be taken into account in all policy decisions.  This means adapted fiscal policies, and specific competition rules (think state aid for cinema).  This also means acting on more than just copyright and intellectual property but also the financing of creativity.

There are currently trade agreement negotiations under way with Canada which could set the scene for the future as Canada and the EU were the champions to promote the establishment of the UNESCO convention.  Let’s hope Europe was listening to its creators yesterday and respects culture in those negotiations.


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