How Long Does Your Film Belong To You And Yours?

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Mon, 04/30/2012 - 20:00 -- Nick Dager

The European Audiovisual Observatory part of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg has published a new IRIS plus report on the lifespan for copyright of audiovisual works. The report The Lifespan for Copyright of Audiovisual Works considers the question of how long films and other creative projects and at what point do they cease to belong to their creators and fall into the public domain? This latest IRIS plus report features a lead article by Christina Angelopoulos of the Amsterdam-based Institute for Information Law (IViR). Angelopoulos concentrates on European legislation which dictates the length or term of protection of cinematographic and audiovisual works. She explains that the so-called Term Directive is the European legal instrument which stipulates for how long copyright of works in Europe must last. In its simplest form this stipulates that copyright protected works in Europe fall into the public domain 70 years after the death of the author. However given that notions of ownership of audiovisual works were disparate before the Term Directive was enforced this instrument aimed at bringing about a certain harmonization in Europe by setting the term of protection of an audiovisual work at 70 years after the death of the last from among a fixed list of persons such as the director the screenplay author or the music composer for example. In some cases however several European countries such as France Spain or indeed the UK may still resort to transitional rules granting a different protection term. For example in Spain the “80 years after the death of the author” rule that predates the Term Directive still applies to works created before 1987. Moving on to film-relevant related rights the author explains that the Term Directive aims at harmonizing the rules for the term of protection of three types of rights specifically related to films: the rights of producers to the first fixation of a film the rights of performers appearing in the film and the rights of broadcasting organizations emitting signals carrying the films. Each of these rights is protected for 50 years. Angelopoulos analysis how the UK’s approach to producers rights departs from “the concept of related rights.” Angelopoulos concludes her lead article by summarizing the pitfalls to declaring an audiovisual work to be completely in the public domain. She points out that in spite of the attempts to harmonize the rules governing the term of protection through the Term Directive “exceptions to the harmonized rules as well as the sometimes innovative implementations of the European rules into national law mean that the desired harmonizing effects has not been entirely achieved.” In addition she points to the complex group of related rights linked to a film work and states that “for a single film to be accurately diagnosed as fully public domain all relevant rights must be correctly identified and their terms of protection individually determined.” The related reporting section of this new IRIS plus publication offers the Observatory’s latest short reporting on copyright legislation in Europe particularly in the context of the digital economy and the exploitation of works on line. Topics covered include the European Commission’s Proposition for a Directive on Orphan Works as well as the Public Consultation on Challenges and Opportunities for Audiovisual Media in the Online Age. The Zoom section of this new publication springs across the pond in order to look at copyright in audiovisual works under US law. Jane Ginsburg of Columbia University provides a chronological analysis of the terms of copyright for films created before 1923 during the period 1923 – 63 during the period 1964 – 77 and then post 1978. Her contribution rounds up the picture of how many steps might have to be taken to have a bullet proof date of for how long an audiovisual work is protected. For anyone getting to grips with issues of ownership of their own films…or anyone else’s… this brand new publication offers a succinct and concise overview of elements to be taken into account when determining term of protection of audiovisual works in Europe or the US.