During an online talk, screenwriters and directors call for fair rights and remuneration
- Authors and experts explored the main challenges faced by audiovisual authors and the discrepancies between the different countries’ legal systems
On 7 October, the International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers (CISAC), the Society of Audiovisual Authors (SAA) and Writers & Directors Worldwide (W&DW) co-hosted a virtual panel entitled “Lights and Action on Authors’ Royalties”. The talk, moderated by CISAC’s regional director for Africa, Samuel Sangwa, saw screenwriters and directors come together to highlight the lack of fair rights for audiovisual authors and support actions to guarantee their right to earn royalties.
Five authors in particular – Spain’s Olatz Arroyo and Esther Morales, Japan’s Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Australia’s Jan Sardi and Mali’s Cheick Oumar Sissoko – shared their experiences and explained how challenging it is to receive a fair share of the success that their films and series enjoy, and how this is critical in helping them to pay their bills and to re-invest in new creative projects.
Sissoko explained that he made his first two films without a professional contract reviewed by lawyers. He then self-produced his third feature to get a proper contract. He said that, throughout the years, the local authors’ association has made a huge effort to professionalise the working environment and to provide legal consultancy services. Currently, both creators and decision-makers need training to address a severe lack of awareness about authors’ rights.
Kurosawa talked through his experience of losing a year-long court case, which demonstrates the flaws in a legal system where no right to remuneration is in place. He also spoke about the importance of the secondary distribution fees, which are currently negotiated by the national directors’ guild, and which cover most of his living expenses. Normally, the primary fee paid by the production would not be sufficient to sustain him for one or two years, while the film is being developed.
Morales and Arroyo said that they work in one of the few countries that protect authors by guaranteeing an unwaivable right to remuneration collectively managed by author societies. Sardi pointed out that a healthy audiovisual industry should adequately remunerate authors, since viewers already recognise their irreplaceable role: “We’re storytellers; they want to hear our voices, our stories, our culture – that’s what it’s all about. That’s what they pay for.”
Sangwa then introduced the invited panellists: SAA executive director Cécile Despringre, W&DW chair Yves Nilly and CISAC director of Legal Affairs Cristina Perpiñá-Robert Navarro. Commenting on the testimonies provided by the five authors, Despringre noted the “great discrepancies in terms of copyright protection and remuneration” between the different countries, but also that their relative contractual freedom “never plays in their favour”, with little to no margin for manoeuvre. She also expressed concerns about the worldwide rise in inconvenient “buy-out contracts”, where authors are paid a lump sum for their work and full intellectual property rights.
Perpiñá-Robert Navarro said that one of the root causes of these discrepancies is the lack of education and information, as many authors are basically not aware of their own rights. Sometimes, even when fair contracts are signed, professionals are afraid of enforcing these, as they fear being blacklisted by their employers. Moreover, she added that in some countries, screenwriters and directors are not even legally recognised as authors.
In his address to policy makers, Nilly underlined: “We are not just talking about our economic situation, but also about the development of the industry itself and of cultural diversity. [...] The new generations of authors, in particular, need to be able to create and make a living from this career. It’s possible [to do that]. The countries with good laws protecting authors and their rights are the ones that produce and distribute the most.”
More broadly, all of the speakers agreed on the fact that legislators must act urgently to correct these flaws, and create an environment where authors are protected and talents are retained.
The event was brought to a close by a short video message recorded by Chinese filmmaker and CISAC vice-president Jia Zhangke.
You can watch the talk in full by clicking here.
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