Authors’ Remuneration - The last resort: going to court

Taken from SAA Remuneration infographic

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.

Mr Shearer’s complaint echoes the story of SAA patron, Roger Michell, when he spoke about his experience as the director of Notting Hill at the launch of the SAA White Paper last year.

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 the image above from 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.

In the meantime follow Harry Shearer’s progress on his Fairness Rocks website and SAA’s website for updates on the progress of the European legislation.