Meet our member: VG Wort in Germany

From July to December, Germany holds the Presidency of the Council of the EU. It has a population of 83 million and there are 13 Collective Management Organisations for the cultural and creative sectors. VG WORT is one of the biggest, founded in 1958 by authors and publishers together, and a member of the SAA since the start.

After the SAA’s Board of Directors’ meeting the other week, I sat down with Dr Robert Staats, member of the Board and, one out of two (the other: Rainer Just), CEO of VG WORT in Germany, to learn more about the organisation and his views. In 2008 Robert Staats left his work as a judge and civil servant, to work for VG WORT where he could pursue his interest in copyright.

VG WORT administers the copyright of about 275.000 authors and more than 9.000 publishers, including more than 39.000 audiovisual authors: journalists (Radio and TV) dubbing writers and more than 16.000 screenwriters. It collects in the audiovisual sector mainly from private copying levies, cable retransmission and public performance. In their case, private copying levies are the most important source that provide royalties for the rightsholders. 

“Forget about it” said the European Commission

Robert Staats has been with the SAA from the very start. Today the SAA has 33 members in 25 countries but back in 2010 it was a small group of founding members that met in Brussels: VG Wort and VG Bild-Kunst (Germany), Directors UK and ALCS (UK), SSA and Suissimage (Switzerland), SACD and La Scam (France) and VEVAM (Netherlands). Together, they went to the European Commission to advocate for an unwaivable right to remuneration for authors. “’Forget about it’ said the European Commission to us, not understanding why there would be a need for an unwaivable right to remuneration when there is a contract between authors and producers. This attitude has changed, today there is a better understanding of the situation of audiovisual authors”, Robert Staats recalled. Audiovisual authors are in a weak position to negotiate their rights and often end up with a lump-sum agreement that deprives them from their right to royalties.

Private copying levies has long been under attack on an EU level and the SAA’s work has been invaluable for VG Wort. Defending the private copying levies, resulted in that the European Commission decided not to pursue any action that would put the levy system into question. However, this ‘success’ was not a safe win, the device manufacturers are against paying levies and it will therefore remain a threat to authors”, explained Robert Staats. Some may argue that most people turn to streaming instead of copying but surveys demonstrate that there are still many private copies made for downloading, remote or off-line usages.  

We need the SAA to do the work in Brussels

“Thanks to the SAA’s work on the various legislative initiatives of the EU, the interests of audiovisual authors and their CMOs were very well put forward. One important example is its advocacy efforts on the Collective Rights Management Directive, which has a direct impact on the CMOs’ administration. The SatCab-Directive and the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market, both adopted in 2019, were the final pieces of legislation of which provisions CMOs depend on and that directly affect authors and rights holders”, said Robert Staats. Furthermore, he added that another advantage of the SAA’s work in Brussels is its cooperation with European authors organisations (FERA and FSE) and other partners: “This joint work does not only amplify a strong voice vis-à-vis decision-makers, it also sets an example for and encourages similar cooperation between CMOs and the guilds on a national level”.  

Now is our window of opportunity

“Now is our window of opportunity; after all the EU copyright legislations are adopted and before they are implemented. It is the chance to get a statutory remuneration right for audiovisual authors in at least some countries. Although there is nothing concrete on the German Presidency of the EU Council’s agenda for audiovisual authors, the Presidency can still play a role when it comes to the implementation of the Copyright Directives. Its national draft law can be interesting for other Member States and can be used to foster a discussion to implement an unwaivable remuneration right for authors on upload platforms”, said Robert Staats.

On this note, we ended our call but before hanging up, Robert Staats said:

“I want to take the occasion to thank the SAA for its excellent work the last decade and congratulate it on its 10th anniversary. VG Wort, and I, are proud members of the SAA and we look forward to continuing working together!”