European filmmakers seek end to buyout contracts
By Nathalie Vandystadt | Wednesday 11 April 2012
European filmmakers, documentary-makers and TV filmmakers are calling for an end to ‘buyout contracts’ in the EU, which are very common – particularly in Germany and the UK. These buyouts make them lose intellectual property rights when their works are successful through other media, for instance when they are revived through the internet.
This is not the exact object of Internal Market Commissioner Michel Barnier’s proposals, which are expected in June and which aim to harmonise the system of collective management of online copyright. Nevertheless, three associations, the Society of Audiovisual Authors (SAA), the Federation of European Film Directors (FERA) and the Federation of Screenwriters in Europe (FSE) are intent on making the most of the various debates that are being held on copyright at EU level to promote their interests. First and foremost, they want to put an end to buyout contracts – lump payments – which “force authors to accept payments that take little or no account of subsequent use”.
The SAA, the FERA and the FSE have now been vindicated by an EU Court of Justice ruling made in February in an Austrian case (C-277/10). The case involved a producer against a screenwriter and the principal director of a documentary film. The Luxembourg judges ruled that Austrian legislation is incompatible with EU legislation – namely the 2011 directive on the harmonisation of certain aspects of copyright and related rights in the information society. This is because by operation of law, and exclusively, exploitation rights (reproduction right, satellite broadcasting right and any other right of communication to the public, via the internet, for example) vest in the producer of the work, at the expense of the principal director.
“It is only a start,” say the three associations. They are calling for a European ban on buyout contracts, starting with online distribution. They want the authors to have the possibility of “negotiating” their remuneration in case of online use of their works. According to Elisabeth Sjaastad, of FERA, two countries are particularly fond of buyout contracts. “In Germany, it is more or less standard for all contracts,” in particular when it comes to contracts offered by private television channels. Only a minority plan extra income in case the work is successful via other media, says Sjaastad. In the UK, outside of traditional television, such as the BBC, all contracts are buyout contracts.
The debate on audiovisual contracts, which the remuneration of authors is part of, was launched by the European Commission in a green paper published in July 2011. The EU executive is analysing the greatly varied 200 or so responses received in answer to 26 questions. A report should be published by the summer.