Earlier this year Canada's performers' union, the Alliance of Canadian Television, Cinema and Radio Artists (Actra), held its first-ever strike. The six-week stoppage may come to be seen as one of the initial skirmishes in the North America digital rights war.
Actra, representing 21,000 performers across the country, is the most aggressive labour representative, a reflection of its size and the importance of Canadian actors to soft-money financing in the nation. Its perennial complaint is the disparity between wages paid to US performers versus Canadian performers. But when Actra's collective agreement with the Canadian Film and Television Production Association expired at the end of 2006, the major sticking point towards ratifying a new agreement was digital rights.
New media means new platforms and new means of delivery; a proliferation and fragmentation of the traditional windows. With no compensation model to guide negotiations, neither side was willing to concede and set a precedent for future exploitation. The home-entertainment deals of the 1980s rest heavily in the collective memory on the labour side. Conversely, US producers, who are a powerful presence behind the scenes in Canada, did not want to provide ammunition for the US Screen Actors Guild (SAG) when its collective agreement expires in 2008.
When Actra called the strike on January 8, it was in a strong position. Its larger US sister unions, SAG and the Alliance of Film, Television and Radio Artists (Aftra) were quick to offer their support, warning their own members against breaking the strike. Productions were offered the opportunity to sign interim agreements - which included the new media provisions Actra was seeking - with the result that although there was technically a strike, there were no actual stoppages. Despite the combative rhetoric of the Cftpa, its member producers were capitulating in droves.
On February 21, the US producers consented to a new independent production agreement that will pay 3.6% of revenues received from the use of productions on the internet. Made-for-new media productions will have a six-month online exploitation window in up to five different guises before a 3.6% first-dollar revenue-sharing scheme kicks in.
However, those US producers have the option of deferring payment on new media - with interest - until January 1, 2009, at which point they and SAG will presumably have fought the next battle in the digital rights war.
AT A GLANCE
- The Canadian Film and Television Production Association (Cftpa) negotiates collective agreements with unions and guilds on behalf of the production community. Quebec is handled by the Association des producteurs de films et de television du Quebec (Apftq). The Cftpa and the Apftq jointly negotiate the national Actra agreement which also covers English-language production in Quebec. British Columbia labour has many of its own representative bodies with separate agreements.
- Quebec's Alliance quebecoise des techniciens de l'image et du son (Aqtis) is involved in a dispute with the larger US-based Iatse over representation of film technicians in the province. The dispute is blamed for dissuading larger US shoots from going to Quebec. Last month, with the help of a government moderator, the two sides came to a temporary agreement but the issue is not resolved.