The future of the German film and television sector is under serious threat from the Gerhard Schroeder administration's plans to introduce a new copyright bill to improve the situation of authors and performing artists, according to producer associations and the six major regional public funds.
On the eve of Monday's public hearing by the Bundestag assembly's legal and cultural affairs committees on the draft bill, the German film industry's "umbrella" organisation SPIO, producer lobby group Film 20, and the producer association Arbeitsgemeinschaft Neuer Deutscher Spielfilmproduzenten all held a press conference and met Bundestag deputies to air their profound grievances about many of the measures.
The intended affect of the proposed law is to reinforce the contractual rights authors and performing artists have under their agreements with publishers, producers and other entities exploiting their works.
As media lawyer Mathias Schwarz explained, "the bill provides for a statutory claim for equitable remuneration for all uses made of a copyrighted work or any performance. Such statutory claim is in addition to any contractual claim and would be directed not only against the immediate contracting party, but against any entity using the work or the performance within Germany. It would not be limited to claims deriving from contracts governed by German law, but would apply to foreign works that are exploited in Germany as well".
"We don't have a problem with equitable remuneration because it is generally agreed that artists are paid very well in the film and television industry here", declared Constantin Film's Bernd Eichinger. "But the bill would allow people to come back and say that their original payment was not sufficient and they wanted more. Take Der Schuh Des Manitu which we didn't expect to be such a huge success. It would be completely grotesque if suddenly you have 40 people involved in the film wanting to renegotiate additional payments because of the success: The result would be that we would have a flood of litigation and that could also affect the distributors, broadcasters and other exploiters".
In addition, the bill envisages the ruling on equitable remuneration also being adopted on a retrospectove basis for the last 20 years: "this would create a situation", Eichinger argues "where someone from Christiane F which we made in 1981 could come and say that they hadn't been paid enough at the time and wanted to negotiate more".
In the case of film and television productions, the rights of authors and perfoming artists are to be further strengthened according to the bill by making it easier for them to claim that the final version of the film or television production distorts their works used in the course of producing such film work.
"To begin with, we buy the film rights to a book from an author", Eichinger explains, "but we haven't got the book yet because the bill says we have to say in advance what changes will be made through the adaptation and the author has to give his agreement. Otherwise he can say that it is not what was agreed and we wouldn't be able to show the film".
"It's completely impossible to say with a novel of 700-800 pages reduced to a 110 page screenplay that there aren't going to be some major changes", Eichinger noted "But it also gets worse: the bill specifies that changes to the screenplay can only be made with the screenwriter's permission: This doesn't reflect the reality of the film industry. In The Name Of The Rose, we had 14 drafts and five different writers before the final draft was ready. That working process which exists everywhere else would no longer be possible in Germany".
"We would be condemned to accepting the version of the screenplay which the author thinks fit", Eichinger continued. "The actors and directors wouldn't be able to make any creative input and even crazier is that the editor wouldn't be able to shift any scenes around".
"If anything approaching this bill is passed, it would literally be impossible to make films here in Germany because you wouldn't be able to get the financing together", Eichinger concluded. "Financing would be impossible if the film's exploitation might be prevented by the mere actions of a lawyer".
Moreover, inward investment in German films and their international distribution could also be hit by the proposed bill's rules.
According to Eichinger, Columbia TriStar has indicated that it would stop involvement in the production and distribution of German films if the bill is passed, and the MPA is understood to have issued a memo a year ago on the publication of an initial draft of the copyright bill (prepared by five copyright professors) warning its members of the possible consequences for their investment in the German film industry.
"I don't think the legislator planned to create this circus", declared Eichinger who had spoken at the highest authority with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Justice Minister Herta Daubler-Gmelin about the threat to the film industry through this proposed law. "they should be in a position to change this situation because it can be that through a "mistake" that a whole industry is to be flattened".