Once upon a time we went to the video rental shop…

The digital development has changed the way we watch movies; Netflix, iTunes and other on-demand-services has given us endless options to pick and choose according to our preferences. We are far away from the time when we used to go into an actual physical shop to rent VCR-movies (millennials – sounds odd, huh? google ‘videocassette recorders’), and if we ended up with a bad movie we couldn’t just swipe to another one, unless we put our shoes on and went back to the store. While the online world has made consumer’s life much easier, video-on-demand, private copying and piracy has made the screenwriters and directors reality much more complex, making it even harder for them to claim a fair payment for their work as it is being shared and disseminated online and across borders.

I am sure many remember the romantic movie Notting Hill about the bookshop owner (Hugh Grant) and the famous film star (Julia Roberts) who enters his shop. I bet few know though (I recently learned) that while the movie won countless awards and became a huge international success, the Director Roger Mitchell did not benefit from the profit made by the producers and broadcasters. We might think that directors and screenwriters, whose work has been successful, are thriving in wealth and fame. This perception could not be further from reality, in fact many of them cannot make a living of their work and get exploited as they get paid a lump sum before the product is final and the value of their work is known.

European laws that regulate audiovisual authors’ rights, for example copyright, cable and satellite, were put in place in early 90’s and 21th century. The digital evolution has moved way beyond what could have been foreseen ten to 20 years ago, leaving a gap between legal protection and the reality we live in. In the specific case of directors and screenwriters it is unreasonable expecting them to understand the in’s and out’s of how digital development impacts on their rights as creators. On the other hand, organisations that represent them such as the Society of Audiovisual Authors are better placed to make sense of the consequences of technology.

In order for our laws to keep up with the fast pace tech development we need to, not only regulate for today’s reality, but also try to anticipate where we might be in the future to make sure our systems are tech-neutral over time. When I was about to replace my old and slow MacBook, my friend wisely encouraged me to take into account not only what I am currently using it for but to also look to how I might be using it in the future, as a new one would come with more capacity and thereby more possibilities. I like the idea of anticipating possibilities, while of course minding the pitfalls on the way. (By the way, if you – like me – is fascinated by the future of tech, I recommend you to watch Black Mirror and Dark Net online to learn more.)

Audiovisual digital development is not only a matter of old VCR-tapes being replaced by thousand of new online TV-channels, nor is it just about screenwriters and directors right to get fairly paid for their work. It is about giving creative people the possibility to make a living of what they are best at – telling stories. I am sure we can all relate to the feeling of being mesmerised watching an amazing film play out on the screen. Story-telling – in different languages from across Europe – is a part of our cultural diversity, and diversity is our most powerful weapon to fight against nationalism and extremism (read filmmakers own statement at the Cannes festival).


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