Screenrights: In the right direction

ScreenrightsIn 2010, Screenrights celebrated two decades of paying copyright royalties to filmmakers, with total collections of more than $352 million. Encore looks at the history of this organisation.

The world has changed a lot since 1990, the year the audiovisual copyright society Screenrights was founded. The organisation has grown and evolved in an increasingly complex media and copyright landscape, started with the humble video recorder revolution.

“We were established as a response to the advent of the VCR,” said Screenrights chief executive Simon Lake. “The VCR meant teachers had the practical means to record programs from television to use in class and keep in the library. However the copyright laws of the time didn’t let them do this unless they got permission from every rights-holder, which was often difficult or impossible.”
Filmmakers and educators got together and lobbied for a change to copyright law that allowed for educational copying of television, provided a royalty was paid to the program makers. Screenrights was set up to administer these provisions, and has now been doing so for two decades.”
In that time, collections from Australian institutions have grown from $1.2m in 1990 to a record $35.92m. The increase is partly due to changes in teaching with audiovisual material.
“Films are now an integral part of many subjects and teachers are accessing this material using sophisticated content management systems, as well as downloading programs from broadcaster’s websites and from online resource centres. Students can play them on personal computers or they can watch them on electronic whiteboards.
“The educational licence has more than kept pace with these changes. Today it benefits over three million students in Australia alone, while providing a very important income stream for the people making these programs,” said Lake.

Screenrights has also moved into other areas of collective licensing, generating new income streams for rights-holders.
“Rapid changes to the ways in which AV material is communicated has made it increasingly difficult for rights holders to individually licence the use of their work in certain circumstances,” said Lake. “The best example is retransmission. Free-to-air broadcasts can be retransmitted in a number of ways – via pay television, on mobile phones, in new housing developments and by IPTV. Since Screenrights became the declared collecting society, we have entered licence agreements with pay TV operators, and we are currently licensing retransmission via mobile phones and IPTV. In the 2009/10 financial year, we collected $5.52m from retransmission.”
Another example is international collections, as rights holders face the difficulty of managing the retransmission and copying of their work in other countries. Screenrights has agreements with its
counterparts in the US, Canada, Europe and South America, enabling the organisation to collect the income generated in those territories.
This growth in licences has also led to an increase in the number of payment records administered by Screenrights. In the last financial year, the company processed more than 2.1 million individual royalty records across 1,675 payments to 835 members and their clients.
“We’re particularly proud of the fact that alongside this dramatic increase in administrative work, we have continued to keep our expenses to around 14 percent of collections and we have also paid out royalties very efficiently,” he said. “Within two weeks of 2009 royalties being cleared for distribution, we had paid out over 54 percent of the total amount.”
Lake believes the organisation is ultimately a link between those who create film and television content, and those who want to use it. This bridging role is exemplified by the online website for educators, www.enhancetv.com.au, which encourages teachers to use television in teaching by providing listings of upcoming broadcasts, as well as resources such as study guides.
“The site is for teachers, but it also assists filmmakers by improving their reach into this market, encouraging copying and generating financial returns,” explained Lake. As the company moves into its third decade, there is still room for growth.
“The establishment of Screenrights involved considerable foresight,” said Lake. “Since then we have continued to adapt and change, looking for new ways in which we can step in and bridge the gap between filmmakers and the people who use their work.
“The beauty of it all is that the money earned from these secondary uses is often used to help fund further production, so it’s not only the industry and the people who use their work that benefit, it’s also audiences in general.”


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