SAG brass set to fight for int’l Internet rights

Top officials of the Screen Actors Guild will address their concerns at an internal meeting today over performers’ lack of protection in international treaties designed to protect copyright holders on the Internet.

Legislation for the implementation of the first phase of the World Intellectual Property Organization treaties, which have been strongly supported by the film and music industries, is expected to be introduced in the U.S. Senate this week. SAG plans to lobby for specific protection of digital images of performers in cyberspace in the preliminary negotiations for the second phase scheduled next month in Geneva.

“We are seeking to protect the mutilation of performers’ images against people who are destructive or exploitive,” Sallie Weaver, SAG’s director of production development/performer rights told Daily Variety. “We believe this treaty is insufficient.”

SAG officials assert that the studio and recording industries’ concerns have been addressed by WIPO, but the same standard of protection has not been granted to performers’ images. For example, an actor’s face could be moved onto an image of a nude body, thereby defaming the performer’s primary commodity. Even President Clinton was concerned about the use of his image in Warner Bros. “Contact.”

“The actor’s performance and his image is his asset and should be the exclusive province of his control,” Weaver said.

A statement supporting SAG’s position was signed last year by many notable members, including Tom Cruise, Jodie Foster and Tom Hanks.

Some industry sources said SAG and others performers guilds have an uphill battle. In the WIPO confab in Geneva last December, the U.S. negotiators lobbied for a compromise proposal that would have included some rights for performers. But the compromise provisions were not accepted by some European guilds and were ultimately not included in the pact approved by 160 countries.

“The guilds had leverage in that process; now they don’t have leverage,” explained the source, because performers’ rights will stand alone on the table for three days in September, which means fewer bargaining chips for U.S. negotiators. “Whether it’s right or wrong is very little incentive.”

SAG officials maintain that language in collective bargaining agreements do not protect performers in cyberspace.

“We have powerful collective agreements,” Weaver said. “We also believe there are difficulties in enforcement of the contract in the new digital world.”

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