Posts Tagged Screenwriters
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.
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.
SAA 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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