Canal+ and EU Copyright – collective action necessary

Canal+, one of the most prominent investors in French cinema, has stopped paying the authors’ Collective Management Organisations the royalties due for films and TV series it broadcasts.

This is not the first time authors have faced a unilateral refusal to pay. In the Netherlands and Belgium, cable operators stopped paying authors’ CMOs for years while protracted court cases ran their course. In the Netherlands, the law was changed to resolve the issue with the creation of an unwaivable right to remuneration.

Individual authors know the feeling too, but are less able to complain and go to court for fear of being blacklisted. Occasionally authors’ with sufficient clout go to court. For example, the parent company of Canal+, Vivendi, is being taken to court by Harry Shearer and others for non-payment of royalties for the film ‘This is Spinal Tap’.

This is happening just ahead of two votes in European Parliament committees and discussions in the Council’s IP working group on the European Copyright Directive proposal. They have the opportunity to ensure that audiovisual authors’ benefit from collective support through the introduction of an unwaivable right to remuneration and by enabling collective action in the contract adjustment and dispute resolution mechanisms.

The refusal of Canal+ to pay authors is happening in one of the countries where authors’ rights are best protected by law and industry practice. The French Culture Minister’s reaction was welcome, let’s hope her position carries through into Council discussions about the Copyright Directive and the need for an unwaivable right to remuneration for the on-demand exploitation of their works.

Authors' organisations, as this case proves, are the only ones who can ensure authors a collective and organized defense. Without them, they would be isolated in the face of overwhelming industry operators in a brutal and unfair struggle.

As our infographic demonstrated, individual authors, who are mostly freelance, are dealing with huge, vertically integrated operators. Canal+ alone had revenues in 2016 of €5,253 million (and that was a bad year).

Giving authors a collectively managed, unwaivable right to remuneration is a necessity to ensure that individual screenwriters and directors are rewarded for the success of their works.