The Red Carpet Versus Reality

The European Parliament is working on an evaluation of the current EU copyright rules ahead of a proposal for copyright reform later this year. Leading this evaluation is Julia Reda, MEP for the "Pirate Party", who recently launched a call for author's opinions on the topic.

Below is a response from Writers and Directors Worldwide executive committee member,  Delyth Thomas.

Delyth is a freelance television director based in the UK. In addition to her role with Writers and Directors Worldwide, she is also the vice-chair of the board of Directors UK and chair of the distribution committee.Find out more about Delyth's work at her website.

Dear Ms Reda, authors need to pay their bills too ...

There is a common perception that directors are well paid, well fed and living comfortably off the fruits of their labours. It's all bright lights,champagne and caviar, right?

It is - for a very, very privileged few. But for most of us this is far from the case.

The reality is a much harsher picture. Budgets have got smaller, shooting schedules tighter and there is less prep/post production time. At the same time pay has gone down, working conditions have got worse, and yet writers and directors are required to deliver bigger, better television shows and films that can be sold and shown all over the world.

On the upside, the business end of the audiovisual industry appears to be thriving. Both European and American co-productions are more commonplace across all budget scales, distribution would appear to be easier with a myriad of new digital platforms upon which our work is shown. There are video on demand, catch up, streaming and download to own services, all of which are radically changing the television and film landscape both for the industry and for the consumer. It's an exciting, brave new world and wonderful that our work is so readily available.

But here's the thing - this brave new world is hungry for more and more content, be it on subscription sites or indeed “free” sites. Creative industries are dependent on creative individuals to originate and realise the creative content; creative content is what the consumer craves and what drives the industry. No doubt big players make big money, but the same can rarely be said for the majority of authors even if their work is hugely successful. So if the industry is to continue to thrive and grow, then it's imperative to nurture and protect it's core - the creative individual.

It sounds simple enough, but creatives are almost always freelance and we find ourselves in an increasingly fragmented marketplace. In the UK, roughly 75% of the creative industries’ workforce is freelance. Employment law has fallen far behind employment practice and left the freelance individual in an increasingly powerless position. We don't benefit from the protection of any human resources department, we can't have collective negotiation because it is counter to EU anti-competition law, yet certainly in the UK, there are indicators that companies are driving down rates of pay. In face of the power and influence of big players, it's become almost impossible for freelancers to have meaningful negotiation on contracts.

So that's our challenge. How can we continue to make what the consumer has a huge appetite for, to ensure a viable thriving industry and still have a sustainable career?

Being outside of a traditional employment structure, there is no pay between jobs, no sick pay and no pension so on it’s in our interests for consumers to have easy, legal access to our work. But we need to be paid for the use of our work so that we can continue to make content for the consumer ... and round and round it goes.

The only way we can do this is to retain and protect our copyright. Fair remuneration for the exploitation of our work is an absolute necessity. If an author can make enough of a living from the success of a work, this will enable the development and creation of further work. It’s win/win for both consumer and author.

But how to define what constitutes fair remuneration? I’m pretty sure that the big corporates, streaming services, ISPs, and the originators of the content – the authors, will all come up with a different answer to that question. So in the absence of a neat mathematical equation that fits every repertoire in every country, it’s imperative that the author’s voice is heard and listened to in this debate. Clearly it’s not possible for every author to haunt the corridors of their own governments, or indeed the European parliament. This is where our professional trade and collective management organisations can pay a big part in lobbying for rights and ensuring that our voice is heard industry-wide, politically, locally and globally. We need to correct the “red carpet” preconception, so I call upon Ms Reda, and all decision-makers to understand the reality of our working lives.

Writers and Directors Worldwide, FERA, SAA, ADAL are all making good progress in lobbying for our rights on a international level. On a local level in the UK, Directors UK is both a collective management and membership organisation and I can't stress enough how important this organisation is. Working directors are at the heart of the society, the board, committees, distribution, campaigns - in every aspect directors have an active presence. In the UK, the directors' voice is finally being heard. We are at the table. That's not to say we don't have a lot of work to do; we do. But without the success and good governance of our collective management organisation, UK directors would be in a far weaker position.

Good governance is imperative, authors should receive what is owed to them in an accurate, timely manner. The European Directive on collecting societies comes into force in 2016, which will mean that collecting societies will be amongst some of the most highly regulated organisations in Europe. As a director, I welcome this. It can only be to the benefit of the creative individual.

- Delyth Thomas