Update: Copyright interest for film directors

Erin Mackay completed a student placement program through the University of New South Wales at Arts Law in the Spring semester of 2006.

For some time there have been moves to give film directors greater recognition in the films they work on and in late 2005, the Government decided upon a limited model that gives directors an interest in relation to retransmission rights.

Prior to the amendments, directors held moral rights in the film itself (namely the right to be attributed, right against false attribution and right of integrity) but did not have any copyright rights in the film. The producer of the film usually held all of the copyright.

The changes which took effect on 19 December 2005 and apply to films which began production after this date, mean that film directors and producers are now considered joint copyright owners of a film for the limited purpose of retransmission of free-to-air broadcasts by pay-TV services only. 

The retransmission of free-to-air broadcasts by pay-TV operators is permitted under the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) so long as the pay-TV operator pays royalties to the copyright owners of the film and other underlying material included in the film. A copyright collecting society called Screenrights administers this scheme and royalty payments.

What this all means, is that now sometimes a film director may be entitled to a share of the royalties collected by Screenrights. 

However, if the film is commissioned, or if the director is working as an employee, then the commissioner of the film or the director's employer will get the copyright interest that the director otherwise would be entitled to. Of course, it should also be noted that the new director copyright ownership rights are assignable, which means that directors may give away their rights in a written agreement when negotiating with producers.

As such, while symbolic, the amendments will probably not make a significant difference to directors and is unlikely to disrupt existing film industry arrangements

For a detailed examination of the other models for introducing a director's copyright that were considered by the government, please see the articles that appeared in the March 2004 and June 2005 editions of ART+law.

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