“Setting up a new European organisation was an exciting challenge I could not refuse”, said Cécile Despringre, Executive Director, when sharing her experience of developing the SAA over one decade ago. “10 years from now, I hope we will have a more harmonised Europe for audiovisual authors’ rights and remuneration, also for online demand. However, there is a risk for the European model to be overturned by a US approach that deprives authors of their rights”, warned Despringre.
Being representative and an expert is the best way to earn a seat at the table.
When the SAA was set up in 2010, collective management organisations did not enjoy the best reputation. Simplified stories of taxis or hairdressers being forced to pay for the music they play were conveyed by the media, painting CMOs as the villain. “I therefore made an active choice to make sure the SAA would not be a usual lobbyist in the corridors of policymakers, but a visible actor that effectively communicates the value and role of CMOs for audiovisual authors”, explained Despringre. Today, the SAA has a seat at the table when it comes to discussing copyright, the audiovisual sector and cultural diversity. The SAA has earned its place by being a representative voice of collective management organisations and providing expertise on its sector to policymakers. “These are, in my experience, the two best ways to be heard and listened to”, said Despringre. From the start, she made it her mission to grow the membership quickly. Today, it reaches 33 CMOs in 25 countries. With Despringre’s professional background and by being SAA’s Executive Director from the start, there is no doubt she and the organisation are expert on audiovisual authors’ rights and remuneration. However, she likes to say “ [she is] still learning every day!”. Throughout the years, she has been visiting most of the SAA members one by one to learn about the specific challenges they deal with. Her own background working for SACD has given her further insight into the daily work of CMOs. Members of the European Parliament need stakeholders’ expertise as they rarely are experts themselves. However, being a lobbyist is no longer that simple. In the past, one could meet MEPs in the Parliament without appointment, today there is much more competition. “With the pandemic of COVID-19, physical rendez-vous have become impossible and online meetings are very different”, said Despringre, hoping that the sense of work being “put on hold” will soon resume again.
Working with the audiovisual sector at the EU level for such a long time, I have seen both repetitions and interesting changes.
“At times, I thought, maybe I would get bored? Working with the audiovisual sector at the EU level for such a long time, I have seen both repetitions and interesting changes”, told Despringre. For example, the Audiovisual Media Services Directive has been revised three times (adopted in 1989 as the Television without Frontiers Directive, first revised in 1997, then in 2007, codified in 2010 and revised again in 2018). For decades, Germany was opposed to quotas of European works on TVs, but in 2018 their representatives in the European Parliament supported the AVMSD extension of the quotas to video-on-demand platforms. Despringre also remembers when the e-Commerce directive was introduced in 2000, back then it served to give digital services the freedom to develop, a principle that lasted very long. “Today, we start to hear a different rhetoric at political level, with policymakers considering that the same platforms should instead be subject to restrictions and strengthened liability as they now benefit from a lot more room in our lives”, said Despringre. “These examples and the fact that the political landscape keeps on moving due to the European elections every five years, proves my job never to be boring”, she concluded.
“10 years from now, I hope we will have a more harmonised Europe for audiovisual authors’ rights and remuneration, also for on-demand”, said Despringre both hopeful and cautious when asked about the future. Getting the EU Copyright Directive was an important step in the right direction, but its success still depends on national approaches. It might take a long time until policymakers will be willing to review the legislation again to strengthen authors’ position.
There is a risk for the European model to be overturned by a US approach that deprives authors of their rights.
Today’s market is dominated by streaming and on-demand services, most of them from the US. It is problematic because the copyright model in the audiovisual industry in the US is very different from the European tradition. There, screenwriters and directors work for hire and have no intellectual property rights, which are in the hands of the producers. In Europe, authors have the rights to their own creation. Due to the COVID-19 crisis, European works have been given more room in cinemas (when they were open), as the releases of many American blockbusters have been postponed. There is also a clear appetite for the diversity of European works online. On the other hand, we see that US platforms work more with European talents in their production activities in Europe and challenge therefore the European approach simply with financial means. For Despringre, this development is very worrying.; This is also why the SAA has started working on raising awareness on audiovisual authors’ rights worldwide. “We are not an isolated continent”, she stressed. “There is a lack of recognition of audiovisual authors’ rights in Asia while in Latin America we see interesting developments in favour of an unwaivable right to remuneration for audiovisual authors”.
Before ending our talk, I noted that Cécile Despringre was elected last year to chair the board of the association behind Cineuropa, after being a board member for many years. “Cineuropa is supported by the EU MEDIA programme as the tool to promote the European film industry throughout the world and a platform where professionals can meet and exchange information and ideas”, said Despringre, who recommended both professionals and cinema lovers to pay it a visit.
Read more about Cécile Despringre and the SAA team.