MIPCOM: All About DWA D’O-TER (That’s Droits d’Auteur!)

In anticipation of the MIPCOM TV market in Cannes (Oct. 4-8), our cosmopolitan and infinitely wise correspondent discusses one of the many perks of working with a French Partner.

France has always been a haven for artists, writers, musicians and performers. Few people are aware, however, that there is a legal basis for this moveable feast’droits d’auteur.

Although international producers complain about the French system, most don’t understand how it works or how it actually benefits them. So here are a few pointers about taking advantage of this legal perk.

All authors’ rights are protected "automatically, without any formalities" by the French Intellectual Property Code. The law has evolved since 1791, but the notion that an author has moral and economic rights to his/her work remains fundamental.

Moral rights are inalienable, perpetual and cannot be waived or transferred by the author. This "humanistic" approach is a guiding principle, in fact, of the French legal system. Only after the author’s death can these rights be transferred (and only for a period of seventy years before falling into the public domain.) These include the right to public display, to claim authorship, to protect the integrity of the work and to stop all exploitation in return for compensation to the authorized user. As with Anglo-Saxon copyright, only works having a "concrete existence" can be protected, ideas cannot.

Economic rights work according to the same principles as copyright. However, it is also a formal notion of French law that an author always benefits from the success of his/her work and is, therefore, entitled to a percentage of the backend ("proportional remuneration").

These royalties can be collected directly or through the SACD (www.sacd.fr). The Société des Auteurs et Compositeurs Dramatiques (SACD) is a "collective management society" that negotiates, contracts, collects and distributes author’s fees and calculates, collects and distributes royalties for its 37,000 registered members. It represents just about anything written, performed, drawn or composed from street theater, mime, circuses and puppet shows to TV series, cartoons, multimedia, still images, features and beyond. "We perform multiple roles that can even be quite close to the role of agent, but not in the classic sense of the term," says Christophe Ledannois of the SACD.

Money distributed by the SACD to authors is collected as a result of data provided by rights users (broadcasters, theatres, etc.) and national media surveyor Médiametrie for "the private copying of works." A total of 75% of the sums collected goes toward paying royalties distributed monthly. The other 25% goes towards cultural initiatives as a result of the Lang Act of 1985, designed to assist "in the creation and distribution of contemporary works."

A total of $140 million dollars was collected by the SACD in 2003, 65% (US$91 million) from the audiovisual sector–35% from the performing arts–for 48,000 broadcast works representing 75,000 hours of programs.

Since its creation, the SACD has been managed only by authors and governed by the concepts of mutuality and solidarity. It not only offers management and legal assistance but also promotes cultural actions ($3.9 million in 2001), awards prizes and performs a variety of services. These include social initiatives ($3.4 million in 2001) like pension funds, orphan support, loans and funeral expenses in addition to moral support in the form of information, advice and even psychological assistance. Members also have access to a bar, research room, offices, an Internet corner, viewing booths, an 80-seat auditorium and an impressive library. The SACD also has offices in Belgium and Quebec.

Dual national (French/American) author, director and producer Fabrice Ziolkowski, who has lived and worked in France for the last 20 years, had this to say about droits d’auteur: "What a lot of producers don’t realize is that royalties–like CNC subsidies–come from the French audiovisual industry, not out of the producer’s pocket or the taxpayer’s. It is the industry paying the talent to make more programs. In fact, the producer pays less up front because the author benefits from royalties on the backend by law."

So it’s actually cheaper for a producer to work with French authors, although he/she has to give up some equity–albeit a miniscule amount (1-3%)–significant for both only in the event of success. Equity that, without the author, would not exist, however.

The whining never stops, of course, but, in the words of Pierre- Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, the first president of the SACD (1777): "In order to create, one must first dine!" Bon appetit!

Christopher Panzer is an executive producer at Paris-based animation and vfx studio, TEVA.