A battle is brewing between the studios and the Artists Rights Foundation over pending authorship legislation that would give directors, writers and producers more control over their films.

At issue is whether or not the U.S.’ Visual Artists Rights Acts will be expanded to include motion pictures as a visual art.

Opponents say such legislation would open a Pandora’s box of questions over who is the “real” author of a film. They fear it would give any number of collaborators ultimate say over final cut, which could result in lost revenues for studios if artists refused to givetheir approval.

Supporters argue that authors’ reputations are at stake when their name appears on a film and that U.S. legislation should follow France’s model — recently adopted by the 12 European Common Market members — that gives all directors authorship rights.

The opposing sides publicly discussed their differences for the first time yesterday at the American Film Market panel.

Sparks and jokes started flying as moderator, attorney Peter Dekom, introduced Strauss Zelnick as the “overeducated” prez/CEO of 20th Century Fox.

Zelnick dug in his heels and said only directors with “proven track records like Jim Cameron” should have “final cut.” He argued that what is really at stake are ancillary profits, because “authors” would also have the right to legally challenge trimmed versions of their films for television or other non-theatrical venues.

Zelnick also said he thinks it’s a “bad idea” to ask government to mediate or put authorship questions in the hands of a judge who may not understand the industry.

Phil Alden Robinson argues the law would protect the integrity and reputation of the authors whose names appear in the credits.

As an example, Robinson said the version of “Field of Dreams” that aired on CBS wasn’t “massacred, but 20 million to 30 million people did not see my version of the film.” He said the cut for television “has debased the value of the movie.”

Asked what will result from such debates, Dekom told Daily Variety: “We have an active DGA so we may see Congress expand the definition to include motion pictures.”

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