Meet our member: deAuteurs, in Belgium

Across the courtyard from the SAA in the European House of Authors, I see deAuteurs’ office. However, I rarely catch a glimpse of its CEO, Katrien van den Perre. When we finally caught up online, I quickly understood why. Katrien is not only the CEO of deAuteurs. She is also busy teaching copyright and media law at Ghent University and at the film school RITCS in Brussels, and a member of the Flemish Regulator of the Media.

deAuteurs represents more than 2 200 authors of audiovisual, literary and graphic works, as well as performing arts. It is important for Katrien to work closely with the authors they represent: deAuteurs’ slogan is to be a CMO for authors, by authors. Publishers, editors and producers are not part of the board. The authors are active in Flanders and Brussels, but deAuteurs is represented on a national level as well as on an international level, thanks to its close collaboration with SACD. In 2023 alone, deAuteurs secured nearly €5.5 million in audiovisual rights.

Katrien knew that she wanted to work in the intersection of law and society already in her second year of law studies. She hesitated between medicine and copyright, but the fact that she had grown up seeing her father’s production company and learning about the making of television series contributed to her choice for authors’ rights. She studied copyright and media law and her internships furthered deepened her interest, first with the Centre for IT and IP Law in Leuven and later at the European Space Agency in Paris.

In 2000's, when working for Reprobel, Katrien met Frederic Young (today General delegate for SACD and La Scam in Belgium), later they would both end up at SACD in Belgium. Katrien supported the Flemish members and soon it became clear that the Dutch-speaking authors needed their own collective management organisation, focusing on their specific needs and political (Flemish) context. In 2012, deAuteurs was finally legally established and Katrien became its CEO.

Amongst some of deAuteurs celebrated members is Lukas Dhont (‘Girl’, ‘Close’), whose film 'Close' was awarded at Cannes, got shortlisted for the the Oscars and won the LUX Audience Award 2023. His co-writer Angelo Tijssens is also deAuteurs’ vice-president. Other prominent authors members are Michaël Roskam ('Rundskop/Bullhead'), Leoanardo Van Dijl, who presents his feature debut ‘Julie Keeps Quiet’ at the Semaine de la Critique in Cannes this year and Cecilia Verheyden, director of the Netflix original 'Rough Diamonds', the writers and the directors of series such as ‘1985’ and ‘Undercover’ just to mention a few.

Katrien went on to explain that it is important for deAuteurs to have a mixed board that represent the diversity of society, with known authors and those at the beginning of their career, representing different genres. This is also why they work close together with the Flanders' audiovisual guilds (Scenaristengilde and Unie van Regisseurs) to understand what is happening on the field. Together they work on the challenges of AI, new technologies and collective bargaining agreements. Achieving fair remuneration for screenwriters and directors when their works are exploited in cinemas is also a priority.

“Thanks to new modes of exploitation such as web series, more young people want to create or study filmmaking. It’s great that the interest is growing, but a lot of them are starting their career without knowing copyright and media law.”

Teaching is a way for Katrien to stay close to authors and the field. She recalled that when she started working at the film school in Brussels there were only a handful of students in the scriptwriting division, now there are 15 students and every year the school must refuse students, she explained. I was curious to know her experience of the difference between men and women in film schools versus their employment in the audiovisual sector. Katrien confirmed my suspicion: “At the film school, there are more female students then men, but when they get out of school there is a big difference. The Flanders Audiovisual Fund is working to change this, but it stays difficult. We are losing a lot of talents among the female authors. We still have a long way to go.”

“It is difficult to follow everything on a European level, so it was crucial for us to join the SAA, to stay informed, to help and be helped on copyright related matters.”

deAuteurs has been a member of the SAA since 2017. The SAA plays a crucial role for authors and for the audiovisual sector at large, Katrien told. The team is doing wonderful work, and I have seen the added value in practice for myself, most recently when listening to Cécile Despringre at Ghent Film Festival where she participated in a panel discussion about AI in the audiovisual sector. She brought a unique helicopter view of the situation in different countries. Katrien also highlighted the value of meeting other European CMOs. Thanks to the SAA, deAuteurs visited DAMA in Spain that is, like them, also a CMO only for audiovisual authors and that works alongside with a multi-repertoire CMO (Sabam in Belgium and SGAE in Spain). Next, deAuteurs plan to visit ZAPA in Poland.

As every CMO, deAuteurs are worried about the power play of the big players such as Meta, Amazon and Netflix and how they will continue to invest in local production. Authors need an artist status, financial means, time to create and producers that invest. And of course, the authors need to receive an appropriate and proportionate remuneration.

“When you read the EU Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market you think how lucky the authors must be now. But when you see the practice it’s a different story.”

Katrien explained that deAuteurs provide legal advice to its members so they can avoid signing buyout contracts, but the best solution is still the unwaivable remuneration right. She continued: This is the only way to protect authors the fullest. Otherwise, they will always face a power play with the producer, broadcaster and streamer. Streamers in Belgium are now taking the state to court over its implementation of the Copyright directive and the introduction of the remuneration right.

The EU AI Act is here but the ‘the proof of the pudding is in the eating’, said Katrien. In other words, transparency is needed. She emphasised that AI should not be considered to fall under the text and data mining exception. It can be a safety option, but it is not a solution. The Belgian EU Presidency organised the Copyright conference in Namur discussing remuneration topics such as buy-out clauses, AI and the need for more harmonisation. As the European elections are approaching, Katrien did not think more can be expected from the Belgian Presidency.

After 9 June it will probably take a long time until Belgian will have its federal government in place (due to the complexity of its governance). Katrien was less optimistic about achievements on local level but more optimistic about the Belgian federal support. “I have never seen so much interest in culture by the political parties as now. At the same time, there are underlying nationalistic interest”, she said concerned, and continued: “Authors need an enabling environment to create and fair remuneration through a collective management organisation, it’s the only way to ensure a link between exploitation and collection of royalties.”

The article  can also be read in Dutch on deAuteurs, website.

Annica Ryng

Public Affairs and Communication Director, SAA