The World and the work

18-12 2009

The World and the Work

by Gunnar Germundson president of the Norwegian Dramatists Association

The first world conference for film and television writers was arranged in Athens recently. Nearly 200 delegates from 31 countries, representing over 20 000 screenwriters, met just a stone's throw from the cradle of the drama and the birthplace of Aristotle.

Iceland, Denmark, Argentina, Portugal, Australia, Romania, Finland, Austria, Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy, Turkey, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Poland, Belgium, New Zealand, Hungary, Canada, Bulgaria, Spain, Mexico, Greece, France, the United States, Switzerland, Israel, Ireland, Serbia, Brazil

Notes from Athens

It is a simple matter to agree on the importance of writers to film and TV.
It is a simple matter to conduct conversations across national borders about how to produce good scripts using different writing processes and forms of collaboration.
What is more difficult for such a group is to find the lowest common denominator with regard to legislation and contract systems - the regulation and practice of copyright. In this area there is wide variation between countries and continents.

Many countries, including Norway, are planning to revise their laws relating to intellectual property. This is due mainly to the use of intellectual property in the digital media, especially the legal definition of what does or does not constitute private use.

The board of the Writers' Guild of Norway (WGN) supported the ‘share - don't steal' campaign which addressed file sharing and how the creators of the relevant works could be compensated.
The campaign was launched in order to bring the issue onto the election campaign agenda, and no new law texts, measures or forms of compensation were proposed. But it was obvious from the way it was expressed that a majority of those behind the campaign were not in favour of having the government buy everybody out - in other words, to permit free use in return for payment of a flat tax, thereby depriving us of our right to sell our own works ourselves. Nevertheless, many believe that general compensation is the only alternative. It is extremely difficult to keep track of usage while at the same time maintaining protection of personal privacy, and one form or another of broadband fee is certainly the quickest way to collect payment. The only way in which the branch can out-class the competition free of charge and persuade the pirates to pay is by offering a better product - and that might take some time. This issue will be on the government's agenda during the next Storting (parliamentary) session, and we predict that a so-called committee of experts will be appointed, with a mandate to prepare a bill and to propose forms of payment. The branch itself will be responsible for coming up with constructive suggestions.

The representatives at the world conference agreed that the Internet has come to stay, and that writers would be wise to view the digital media as a blessing, the ultimate arena for disseminating our works. The participants ascertained that there is money to be earned from the digital media, but that thus far it is the messengers, or the media suppliers, who are bringing home the bacon through advertising revenue and the sale of hardware and software. How can the creators of intellectual property get something out of these multinational media conglomerates? Is there any willingness to pay up among those who hide behind the excuse that they are only providing a service that people want? To what degree must they be forced to pay? These questions were asked, but not answered. Everyone agreed that there was a job to be done here - right now.

Nordic writers will be interested in collaborating with one another because our intellectual property laws are similar, and protect copyright holders' rights more rigorously than in the rest of Europe. They can thus be used as an example for others to follow.
The board of the WGN will also appoint a digital committee to ensure that some of our members focus keenly on this issue and are thus able to contribute constructively to the process as it unfolds.

In closing, from Athens

The problem of how writers can safeguard their financial status within their primary field, the actual production of film or TV scripts, seems to be the same all over the world. There are always people who can be persuaded to work for free in order to get their script produced, and the average income is not enough to live on in any country. The world conference naturally focused on solidarity among writers as the cornerstone of a branch that has no official wage scale. The strike in the USA has shown that it helps to stick together.

Editor Hávar Sigurjónsson has written a report on behalf of the Nordic Writers' Guild (see LINK). More information is also available on the Federation of Screenwriters in Europe (FSE) website: www.scenaristes.org