2 years after Brexit: A talk with SAA’s members in the UK

The 31 January 2020 marks the day when the UK left the EU. I called up our UK members Barbara Hayes, Deputy Chief Executive of Authors’ Licensing & Collecting Society (ALCS) and Andy Harrower, CEO of Directors UK to hear from them how Brexit impacted their work and authors’ rights in the UK.

Barbara Hayes is the Chair of SAA’s Board of Directors and Andy Harrower is the Co-Chair of SAA’s Working Group on Copyright.


“Brexit means a few more hurdles to jump through.”

One of the first notable changes after Brexit has been the end of free movement between the UK and the EU. Today, the borders are requiring individual visa, work permits, etc. However, as we know, about the same time as the UK left, the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, resulting in lockdowns and general travel restrictions. Barbara Hayes and Andy Harrower therefore agreed that it is a bit difficult, and too early, to tell the actual impact of Brexit on free movement.

Andy: In some territories, production companies might be incentivised just to employ local directors and other performers and talent, but I am not picking up a lot of noise from our members at the moment. However, this could be because they are finding ways around it.

Barbara: Having more hurdles to jump through is problematic, at the same time there are plenty of countries outside the EU where production is being made, where these ‘hurdles’ are normal. We must be pragmatic, if there is a will, there is a way. My concern though is the expectations on authors, who are the beating heart of a project but the weakest partner in contract negotiation. This was an issue already when there was no pandemic, and we were still a part of the EU. Now, their position is getting even weaker.


“It will lead to less risk-taking, reliance on more commercially viable productions and less opportunities for anyone who is operating outside of the mainstream.”

The EU Creative Europe programme has helped the cultural and creative sectors significantly over the years, including UK film and TV distributors, independent cinemas, etc. (€74 million between 2004 - 2018). In comparison, the UK’s global screen fund has only provided £7 million in the pilot phase to support sale and distribution for UK films in international territories, development for UK content businesses and funding for international co-production. I asked our members what the loss of funding means for them.

Andy: The cycle from investing in an idea that becomes a script, to a finished film which can be distributed and sold can be several years, so the challenge is being able to demonstrate to government that such investment pays off. In the music world, if you are talented, you can create a finished product in your bedroom and get it out quickly. In the audiovisual world you need other people and money to turn your idea into something people can watch, so funding in all its forms is critical.

Barbara: Writers and directors are already asked to do so much for free so less funding on top of it will make the workplace more challenging. The creative industries are the UK’s success stories but its under-valued in the political arena. So, we might be a victim of our own success. It is our role to change the narrative about authors’ earnings, so their struggles are recognised.

Andy: It is too early to work out the impact but for sure it will lead to less risk-taking, reliance on more commercially viable productions and less opportunities for anyone who is operating outside of the mainstream. It will also be less chance for collaboration between creators in different territories. At the same time, there is a danger that the UK government see all money that is coming in from Netflix, Apple, Amazon and ask “What is the problem?”. But if what ends up on the screen is homogenous and less risks are taken, then that’s not going to be good for creators or audiences in the long run. We want people to invest in ideas and their development and not just hire our directors as shot gatherers.


“It is a shame that we cannot benefit from the Digital Single Market Directive, especially as we were very much involved in the development of it, but we – and the UK IP Office - can still learn from what is going on in the EU.”

Since the UK left the EU, it is no longer obliged to live up to EU copyright legislation. Among them, the Digital Single Market Directive, Portability Regulation, Orphan Works Directive, Collective Rights Management Directive that no longer are binding for the UK. Nowadays, UK broadcasting services that want their content to be available in the European Economic Area need licences in the EU, since the UK is no longer a part of the Single Market. This has resulted in some moving from the UK to the Netherlands or Spain. I asked our members if they are worried that the UK would lower its copyright standards in a way that affects authors’ rights.

Andy: I am not too worried; the current government has many things on its to-do list before it can get around to weakening the copyright system in the UK. It is just a missed opportunity to not benefit from the EU Copyright Directive. There is a risk though of a ‘let’s leave it as it is -mentality so we need to continue to push for authors’ rights to be strengthened and protected.

Barbara: I am not feeling any particular change in the air, and if so, I rather see opportunities to make improvements. It is a shame that we cannot benefit from the DSM Directive, especially as we were very much involved in the development of it, but we – and the UK IP Office - can still learn from what is going on in the EU. Even with the implementation of the Copyright Directive in Europe, there are 50 shades of grey, in other words, many ways of implementing the directive.

“We are all in this together”

Barbara Hayes and Andy Harrower both agreed that since Brexit, it is even more important to be a part of a European association such as the SAA to share experiences with colleagues across Europe.

Barbara: Being a part of the SAA is about sharing experiences, learning from countries that you did not expect to, about what works and not. It sparks creativity in how to find new solutions to ensure that authors are fairly remunerated. We are all in this together, looking out for authors’ interest.

A. Ryng