EC denies plans for rights regs

AMSTERDAM — The European Commission has denied it plans to introduce legislation to harmonize the definition of “moral rights” across the community in the near future.

As defined by the Berne Convention, moral rights represent an extension of an author’s or creator’s control over a piece of work, independent of any economic rights. Such rights can allow an author of an audiovisual work to voice his opinion on whether that work is modified before it is released or published or allow him to disclaim authorship.

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A growing European lobby is calling for a strengthening of communitywide moral rights provisions — but widely differing views on who constitutes the genuine author of a collaborative work like a film has turned the issue into a political hot potato.

In France and most other continental European countries, the film or TV director is defined as author or creator and therefore his rights must be protected. In the U.K. and the U.S., however, the creator is the producer or copyright owner.

Many U.S. movie producers see the granting of moral rights to directors — plus associated “neighboring rights” to performers, publishers, broadcasters and others — as a threat to the full commercial exploitation of a work. They also fear such new rights measures will hamper European co-prod deals.

Some sources suggest that the moral rights issue is now off the agenda of the General Agreement on Tariffs & Trade (GATT) talks because of U.S. pressure.

However, Carole Croella of the EC’s intellectual properties department refuted recent press reports that the EC has frozen an intended moral rights directive in order not to inflame the U.S. during GATT talks. Regardless of GATT , Croella said, “Moral rights legislation is no longer in our plans, at least not for the near future.”

An internal EC hearing on the moral rights issue held last November revealed a wide divergence of opinion on the viability of a Europe-wide policy, said Croella. “We are still studying the various available definitions and discussions will continue.”

Within the U.S., several leading directors, including Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone and Robert Altman, have signed a motion urging the EC to use the GATT talks as a platform to strengthen the moral rights’ provision, which they feel would prevent their work from being improperly manipulated by studios or broadcasters. They feel their own government has failed to comply with the Berne Convention because U.S. copyright law has no moral rights section.

Several other directors are expected to meet at the upcoming Venice Film Festival to discuss whether to increase the campaign for harmonized worldwide moral rights legislation.

A report issued earlier this year by the International Assn. of Entertainment Lawyers concluded that almost one-fourth of 50 countries surveyed had no provision for moral rights within their national copyright laws.

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