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30 August 2015 | Sabiene Heindl, SWH Legal and Business Consulting

Film directors' copyright -- fair remuneration for all

Take outs

  1. Australian directors, in contrast to many of their overseas counterparts, are not entitled to reasonable economic rights in their films through the copyright regime.
  2. Australian directors should be granted an inalienable right of remuneration for the ongoing exploitation of their films through copyright ownership in their films.

In a world where most of us rightfully expect that creators are rewarded with intellectual property rights in their unique creations, whether they be books, music, film or games, it is hard to believe that some in the chain of creativity get the short end of the stick. Yet this is exactly the situation for Australian directors; in contrast to their European counterparts they have no genuine claim to copyright in the films that they create.

In this article we discuss the role of Australian directors as essential creative contributors to films and the current Australian copyright regime applicable to them. We contrast this to the situation in most European territories and make the case that Australian copyright laws should be reformed to ensure fair remuneration to all of those involved in the creative process of film making.

The vital role of directors

Australian directors make vital contributions to culture, diversity and economic growth in Australia through film, television and dramatic productions. In addition to providing entertainment, their work can educate, build empathy in our community, instill an appreciation of history, our unique Australian culture and perspective on other cultures.

The Australian film industry is also an important economic contributor to the Australian economy, contributing $5.8 billion in gross domestic product (GDP), supporting 46,600 full time jobs and contributing almost $2 billion in tax revenues for the Australian economy according to the 2012-13 report by Deloitte Access Economics released in February 2015.

State of Australian copyright laws

For close to 50 years, Australian directors have been denied any meaningful "ownership" of their films due to an arguably outdated and unfair interpretation of Australian copyright law. This has been reinforced by industry practice which provides the majority of economic rights to producers as deemed "makers" of the film. This contrasts with Europe where directors are recognised as creators of films.

The proposition for Australian directors: fair remuneration

To encourage new creative Australian talent it is imperative that directors should be allowed to make a living from their creations.

The Australian Screen Directors Authorship Collecting Society Ltd (ASDACS) on behalf of Australian directors, is seeking a sustainable creative industry for directors through improved recognition of their creative contribution. It argues that Australian directors should be granted an inalienable right of remuneration for the ongoing exploitation of their films through copyright ownership in their films. Its campaign for "fair remuneration for directors" sits in parallel to the broader international focus of audio visual societies worldwide through their umbrella body, International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers (CISAC) and Writers & Directors Worldwide.

To conclude, in the words of ASDACS' Chair, Stephen Wallace, famous Australian director of Blood Oath and Turtle Beach:

Directors need to be recognised for what they do without having to negotiate and bargain for it against the odds. Without having to bow their heads. For too long they have been treated like unworthy supplicants when they actually hold the keys to the kingdom.
-(Interview with Stephen Wallace on 21 April 2015)

Note: This is an extract from Australian Intellectual Property Law Bulletin, August 2015, Volume 28 No 6