A month ago, I started as the new Public Affairs and Communications Manager at SAA, after working 8 years with human rights in Brussels. While my background is with public affairs and communications, audiovisual authors’ rights are new for me. It has been exciting first weeks jumping into the subject and getting to know rapidly a few things:
Firstly, I have learned about the broad European and international support for EU leadership when adopting the EU Copyright Directive in the Digital Single Market, so it strengthens the rights of all authors, not just a few. I have had the opportunity to launch a petition together with the Federation of European Film Directors (FERA) and the Federation of Screenwriters in Europe (FSE) in support of a Declaration signed by 126 prominent screenwriters and directors, asking for a right to remuneration for the on-demand exploitation of their works. The support is there. In just about two weeks, we already have more than 7000 signatories from over 70 countries worldwide.
Secondly, the International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers (CISAC) online course ‘‘Exploring Copyright” has opened my eyes to the fact that, while the digital environment may still be rather new for legislators to adapt to, copyright as such has been around for centuries and organisations gathering authors so that they are stronger, exist in all EU Member States. The “Society of Authors and Composers of Dramatic Works” (SACD) in France was the first organisation worldwide, founded in 1777 by authors to jointly manage their own rights. SAA has today 31 collective management organisations as members. The long history of some demonstrates that there already is a lot of knowledge at national level, as well as existing solutions to problems that EU policy makers are trying to solve.
Thirdly, I have learned to understand that the rights of authors and composers of musical works have for a long time been better protected by copyright and naturally collectively managed, while the rights of audiovisual authors have not yet caught up. The reason is simple: the film business did not take shape until early 20th century and TVs appeared in the 1950s. The world wide web emerged in early 1990s, and on-demand platforms providing films, series and other programmes have only been around for about a decade. At the same time, the online environment does not imply any new rights (as mentioned, some Member States have already found solutions to adapt to the online environment). We already listen to music through online platforms such as Spotify and the composers get paid. In a similar way, we watch movies and series online and the audiovisual authors also deserve to be remunerated (whereas the composer of the music movie get paid). In our blog post ‘a screenwriter’s life’, we illustrate that it is still the case today that authors cannot make a living from their work, even if they may be famous, such as Rembrandt and Mozart. It is the reality of audiovisual authors in today’s Europe: their rights are not safeguarded in the online environment. It also demonstrates the vulnerable position screenwriters and directors are in when negotiating their contracts, subsequently showing why they would benefit from collective management organisations representing their rights, especially when it comes to online exploitation of their work.
Final observation, it took many centuries from Gutenberg introducing the printing press in 1440, until authors themselves were granted rights and started receiving economic reward for the success of their work. It is time to act to make sure it does not take as long from when video-on-demand platforms were created until audiovisual authors are being fairly remunerated for their success online.
126 prominent screenwriters and directors across Europe have come together to call on the legislators of the European Union to seize the momentum of the adoption of the Copyright Directive in the Digital Single Market to support Europe’s creators in the online environment.