"It is Time to Stop Undervaluing Authors" says Yves Nilly in Les Echo Newspaper

The president of Writers & Directors Worldwide, Yves Nilly, has written an article for the French daily financial newspaper Les Echos about the importance of equitable authors' remuneration. Read the article, translated from French, below.

It is Time to Stop Undervaluing Authors

Today, the virtues of the sharing economy and the collaborative economy are constantly being extolled; the networks are social and open and we are given the impression that there are only winners in the new economic lottery in which “disruptive” innovation generates “profound structural changes” giving rise to new “business models” which “benefit everyone”. All that sounds very rock and modern.

However, the complaint filed against Vivendi by the American actor, composer, producer, director and screenwriter Harry Shearer concerning the way in which the group managed the rights in the film “This is Spinal Tap” is a reminder of an all-too-familiar story: revenues are not fairly shared between artists and industry players. As a world star and co-writer of the film, Harry Shearer can afford to sue. Ennio Morricone, another legendary artist, has followed suit. But how many lesser-known artists with less means and less freedom have had to – and continue to have to – bow down? Apart from the ethical and moral aspects, the challenge is to shake up the way in which the value is shared between artists and distributors, creators and firms, inventors and factories.

Such initiatives have received little attention in France: there is not the same awareness of the weight of the “entertainment” industry here as in the Anglo-Saxon world. Yet this is the reality: even today, and doubtless today more than yesterday, due to the new players that have entered the value chain, the authors of a film are not certain to share in the life and success of their works.

A film has several lives: cinemas, DVD, VoD… It may even be rereleased several times, or become a globally acclaimed cult movie. But, in most cases, its authors receive no further remuneration for this success and each different use. As far as they are concerned, it is as if the film had not existed in the end or had not been seen by anyone.

Authors’ rights were established over two centuries ago; the aim was to provide a legal framework that would foster creative development and diversity by enabling authors to make a living from their work and share in the success of their creations. Arriving on the scene much later, screenwriters and directors have seen the link between the use of their works and their remuneration eroded over time. In most countries, lump-sum remuneration has replaced the legitimate right to proportional remuneration for each use. It is not possible to talk of fair remuneration when that remuneration is negotiated before the work goes into production, with no means of gauging how successful or not it will be worldwide and for all types of use.

This is what drives the campaign that Writers and Directors Worldwide is conducting with CISAC, the International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers, to have this fundamental right for authors to receive proportional remuneration for the use and dissemination of their audiovisual works enshrined in law in the form of a non-transferable and non-waivable right, supported by the recognition of author status for screenwriters and directors and the principle of fairly negotiated remuneration payable by the users of the works and managed collectively by authors’ organisations – thus a universal right for a global market.

Of course, this right to remuneration does not call into question the assignment of rights to the producer. But in those countries, like Italy, where it has been introduced, it has been a catalyst for success, preserving creative freedom and the existence of independent creators and guaranteeing the diversity and renewal of creation.

The objective is not to impose a levy on the public or a tax on the producer who backed the film with its authors and partners, but to restore a balance underpinned by legislation to ensure that revenues are fairly shared.

Yves Nilly is President of Writers & Directors Worldwide and a member of the Board of SACD, the Society of Dramatic Authors and Composers.