Forced mediation rule a sticking point

BERLIN — German lawmakers are hammering out a new copyright law to protect authors and filmmakers, but TV networks and independent producers continue to be unhappy with it.

Justice minister Herta Daeubler-Gmelin has watered down some of the original proposals and she has struck off a controversial clause giving freelancers a retroactive claim to “fair” compensation up to 20 years after a contract is signed.

But the alterations haven’t gone far enough for the Assn. of Commercial Radio and Television (VPRT). The forced mediation rule remains especially thorny.

Clause would give labor unions representing freelance filmmakers or writers the power to compel networks to go before an arbitration board or even an appeals court to seek fair compensation after a contract has been inked.

“That would give judges unprecedented powers to interfere in the free market,” says the VPRT’s Stefan Kuehler. “We are not dealing with cases in which employees are concerned. These are cases in which some judge could force us to pay a freelancer who was commissioned under contract more money if he deems it fit.”

Battle cry

Juergen Doetz, VPRT prexy and exec at Kirch-owned commercial web ProSiebenSat.1 Media, says, “If the federal government remains unyielding on these points, we will exhaust all of the legal and political avenues at our disposal.”

Another hot button issue is future exploitation. Filmmakers are demanding either ownership of, or fair compensation for, future exploitation rights to their works. Producers want to retain rights to these “unknown” outlets to promote their technical development and not repeat the recent legal mess that surrounded the arrival of the DVD in the mid-1990s.

The courts declared the digital vid disc a new exploitation possibility; as a result, existing licensing deals had to be amended for DVD rights acquisitions.

The continuing complexities of forging a new copyright bill, which was originally due this year, has led justice ministry officials to postpone its presentation to parliament until early 2002.

According to Georgia Tornow, head of independent producer association Film20, what matters most is what ends up in the law books and not the debate and discussion.

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