WIPO Calls On Film Industry Stars To Promote Audiovisual TreatyPublished on 20 July 2011 @ 5:28 pm
By Catherine Saez, Intellectual Property Watch
The UN World Intellectual Property Organization yesterday invited a panel of international film producers and star Spanish actor Javier Bardem to sing the praise of an international treaty to help the audiovisual industry address the problem of unauthorised downloads of content that is a hallmark of the digital age.
Much in the same vein as the so-called High-Level Copyright Dialogue on the Book and Publishing Industry on 15 June (IPW, WIPO, 17 June 2011), the High-Level Copyright Dialogue on the Film Industry held yesterday by WIPO presented a panel advocating intellectual property rights as essential for the audiovisual industry, in particular for actors.
Dark and handsome Bardem, whose recent films include “No Country for Old Men”, created quite a stir at WIPO, and attracted journalists and photographers alike on the 13th floor of the building, turned into a very scenic press room for the occasion. Esaad Younes, producer and former Egyptian actress, Iain Smith, United Kingdom film producer, and Bobby Bedi, Indian film producer and director, shared the floor during the press conference. The four speakers later spoke in the WIPO plenary hall.
WIPO Director General Francis Gurry said at the opening of the press conference that the high level dialogue came after the decision by member states, “taken two weeks ago” in a committee, to convene a diplomatic conference to adopt a treaty on the protection of audiovisual performances (IPW, WIPO, 24 June 2011).
All of the producers agreed that the digital age came with exciting and promising capabilities for creators, but also introduced accompanying opportunities for piracy of copyrighted content. Digital technology gives filmmakers means to make movies that could not be made before, Smith said, but “magic in films comes with a price,” he said.
Bardem said he was part of the two or three percent of actors who are “lucky enough,” but that over 90 percent of actors are seriously struggling to make a living and need the revenue that derives from intellectual property rights. Movie tickets might be too pricey, Bardem said, but piracy cannot be considered to be an alternative.
Smith acknowledged that a new business model is probably needed but said the industry needs a bridge between the current model and the next.
Strong Statements in Favour of AV Treaty
The dialogue took place during the unrelated 19th session of the WIPO Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (IGC), being held from 18-22 July (IPW, WIPO, 15 July 2011).
The IGC meeting finished early yesterday to make room for the dialogue, leaving a room sparsely filled. The four panellists were more loquacious in that setting than at the press briefing, particularly on policy issues.
Bardem proclaimed himself as the voice of “all the actors in the world,” and said it was important for actors to have “moral rights protecting the paternity and integrity of our artistic performance.” He added that actors are “the only group of creators that still do not have an international treaty.”
“I claim intellectual property rights for those thousands of actors’ families that cannot make a living exclusively out of their profession, and which are the majority,” he said. Despite telling the press conference that he is not a policy specialist, he spoke like one to the plenary, saying that “performers from around the world are now expecting the WIPO General Assembly to reconvene the 2000 diplomatic conference to resume the negotiation and finalise the treaty as early as possible.” WIPO members held a diplomatic conference – a highest level treaty negotiation – for an AV treaty in 2000 but failed to reach agreement.
For Smith, digital technology is a “massive game changer” and the film industry is “undergoing cataclysmic change.” Last year, he said, “the Hollywood dream became, quite frankly, a Hollywood nightmare,” during which the movie “Avatar” suffered 16.5 million illegal downloads, he said.
Under those conditions, he said “originality, never much of a Hollywood virtue, to be honest, is at an all time low,” with fewer truly indigenous films, and cinema attendances at their lowest in 16 years. Legislation, he said, will only succeed if “it can encourage the film industries,” in particular in emerging nations, “to build a smarter system of rights.” According to Smith, emerging economies, which are growing their creative industries, “will stand to lose the most.”
Educate, Legislate, Enforce: Mantra of Indian Producer
Bedi said he already had opportunities to come to WIPO, and came because he is “passionate about cinema.”
Virtual theft is easy, he said, and “stealing intellectual property in its digital form is just not perceived the same as stealing a book or a CD,” echoing an ongoing awareness campaign from Hollywood. “If you believe that one form of theft is acceptable, we risk the ethical integrity of future generations,” he said.
Bedi, who said India’s is the largest film industry in the world, with the most movies produced and more cinema attendance than Hollywood, advocated for a solution based on a “mantra”: education, legislation and enforcement. He said hard and soft information about ethics and laws should be disseminated, and dominant players co-opted into this effort.
“Today you have large companies like Google who cry crocodile tears about piracy,” but they are worth billions of dollars, he said. Google, YouTube and the likes live off products “that they do not pay for,” like user-generated content, emails and communications, he said.
“I have heard arguments justifying that IP should be free,” he said, and “exceptions need to be carved out for certain sections,” such as schools below the poverty line, and people with disabilities. “I completely understand the need for theses exceptions but we must be very careful that they are not abused.”
“These exceptions should not follow the same rules as free public health care, the needy recipient should benefit but the doctor also must get paid,” he added, saying policymakers must “properly” legislate.
Many countries have good copyright legislation, said Bedi, including India, which has a “good draft copyright act awaiting Parliament approval.”
Bedi emphasised enforcement. “There is not much point at having a law unless you enforce it,” he said. According to him, “only the US takes this seriously,” adding that cinema is the United States’ largest civilian export in terms of dollars but also in terms of culture.
The main problem is that of jurisdiction, he said, as “the digital world actually has no jurisdiction.” “The pirate of Indian cinema is sitting in the US and no one cares,” he said, adding that some countries are driving out their “pirates” who move to more lenient places.
Bedi said countries must respect each other’s IP rights, and enforcement should have some teeth. It is important to establish protocols that are no less stringent than “Interpol notices” for copyright infringement, he said.
But he acknowledged the challenge the copyright industry has in maintaining its business model rather than adapting to modern user behaviour. “My mantra,” he said, is “not rocket science, and I am not a rocket scientist, but I suspect that it is easier to build rockets than to achieve this, but we have to keep trying.”
Catherine Saez may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.