“Women at CISAC” - towards 50/50 in authors’ societies

On 4-5 November, representatives from the International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers (CISAC) met in Lisbon to discuss how to advance gender equality within collective management organisations (CMOs) and increase women creators among members and on the boards. The SAA was among them.

“CISAC is a global voice of creators, addressing gender equality is in the self-interest of the organisations’ 90-year long history of advocating for fairness for creators. Art shapes humans and their social values; this gives creative societies a position of both responsibility and leadership to tackle gender equality” said Gabi Oron, CISAC’s Director General in his opening remarks.

The Portuguese Minister of Culture, Graca Fonseca reminded about the importance of paying tribute to women in the arts throughout history, to understand the space that has been denied them and what barriers persist. Dr. Patricia Akester explained that historically women could not own property and have thereby not been able to claim any intellectual property rights. In the 19th century, on average women registered 10 patents per year, compared to 3760 patents registered yearly by men. Even today, women are half as likely to hold a patent for business and for their research and copyright is still mostly held by men.

The SAA had the opportunity to present the situation for women in the audiovisual sector. The good news is: equally as many women and men graduate from film school; the downside is that only 24% of women end up working in the industry (EWA, 2013). Only 4,2% of top grossing films are directed by women and 13,2% written by women (European Parliament, 2018). Similar trends apply to the music sector: panellists gave examples from the US showing that only 2% of record producers are women and only 2,3% of musical works have been written by women (USC, 2018). Although recent studies do show an increase of films by female directors, it is merely linked to the overall increase in film production and not to the increase in films directed by women (EAO, 2019). In other words, there is no visible progress over time. With this trend, it will take 51 years before as many women as men direct films and 75 years to close the admission gap (EAO, 2014). Furthermore, female filmmakers make 20% less than their male counterparts (FERA/FSE, 2019), which is an even wider pay gap than the EU average of 16%. The norm of long hours, unpaid work, side jobs and co-reliance on partners’ income, may be a part of the reason why women are under-represented in the older age group and among established authors. On a positive note, the new EU Copyright Directive includes a principle of proportionate remuneration that will support authors to claim their fair share of royalties, which can help to improve female filmmakers’ financial situation and enable them to pursue their careers.

Despite the gloomy figures, many organisations try to make a difference. SAA member SIAE in Italy for example supported the Donne e Audiovisivo project to raise awareness, develop research and recommendations. In France, La Scam supports the Festival International de Films de Femmes de Créteil, promoting female filmmaking since 1979 and SACD annually publishes a study about women in the audiovisual sector; the latest edition includes 7 recommendations. As far as institutions are concerned, the Swedish Film Institute started working in 2012 for gender equality, promoting women in key roles in more and larger productions, increasing visibility, data analysis and education. Several countries have followed, such as Pro Quote Films in Germany. As a result, Sweden is one of the European countries with the highest share of films directed by female authors (31%) (EAO, 2019). The Council of Europe’s fund Eurimages is aiming for gender equal distribution of public funding to film directors and more visibility of female talent. In 2013, 16% of women received public funding compared to 84% of men in Europe (EWA, 2013).

CISAC presented the results of its first membership survey on gender equality. Out of the one-third of members who answered, more than half were from European CMOs. Audiovisual CMOs employ 71% of women while its membership is composed of 34% of female (among the music CMOs the figures are even lower and only 18% of the members are women). While two-thirds have taken some measures for gender equality, others answered that they lack the data or the means to collect such information. Many respondents expressed their frustration. Even in an otherwise frontrunning country such as Iceland, the music society STEF consists of only 20% of women who get 11% of the royalties collected by the CMO. “This makes it important to understand the barriers women face, such as the lack of media visibility and radio time as well as harsher music critics than men”, said the CEO Gudrun Bjarnadóttir. Catherine Boissière from France shared the alarmingly low 9% of female composers among SACEM members. A similar survey among SAA members shows a bit more encouraging figures than in the music sector: 33% of women and 67% of men as members and recipients of payments in 2018. So, where are the women? Delyth Thomas, filmmaker and active member of Directors UK said with encouragement: “We are here!” and stressed that CMOs have an advantage as they have data about works and the authors they collect for and distribute to. Directors UK use this data to issue equality reports that show where progress is made or not. 

Several participants addressed the issue of under-representation of women on the boards of CMOs. Catharine Sanberg told how SOCAN in Canada works hard to improve by making women understand that they are qualified and men that they need to step back to ensure a more balanced board. “The problem is not who wants to get in, it is who does not want to leave and fears that a vote for a woman might lead to him being excluded in the future“ said one of the male participants. 

Among the suggestions of ways forward were ideas of encouraging equality data collection, promoting women’s participation, exchanging good practices, identifying CMO champions and front-runners and developing mentorship programmes. A list of possible actions will eventually be presented to the CISAC Board hoping that the ‘men at the top’ will realise the urgency and importance to continue to invest in “Women at CISAC”.