Published on: 16 May 2017 in The Industry

What is copyright?

Reading time: 5 minutes and 46 seconds

If you are working as a director you are an author of your work. And just like a novelist or composer you have copyright in your finished work and your copyright has value. But what does that really mean for you as a director?

Watch our explanatory video below.

What is copyright?

Copyright is a legal right given to authors of original creative works. Copyright protects your work and stops others from using it without your permission. It is a form of Intellectual Property. Current UK copyright law falls under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.

Under UK and European copyright law, the joint owners of copyright in a film or television programme are the principal director and the production company or broadcaster who arranged for the work to be made. This means that every finished audiovisual work has two joint authors who each own copyright when the work is created. Copyright does not exist in the idea for a creative work or film, only in the finished work.

There is an exception to this copyright rule if your work is made as a staff director in the normal course of your employment, in which case the employer owns the copyright. The distinction for assessing if your work would be exempt from shared ownership of copyright is whether or not you are working under a ‘contract of service’ (e.g. as an employee) or a ‘contract for services’ (as a freelancer or an independent contractor).

Copyright can be transferred, assigned or sold to another individual or organisation. For example, usually when a director takes a job they sign an employment contract that contains a clause in which all of their rights are assigned to the production company or broadcaster. The production company or broadcaster then owns all the copyright in the work which means that they can then sell on the film or TV programme. In exchange the director should receive a fair reward from the production company or broadcaster to compensate the director for the assignment of their copyright.

For most UK television programmes, compensation for the use of a directors’ work is negotiated and collected by Directors UK, the Collective Management Organisation (CMO) for film and TV directors in the UK.

For a film, the contract negotiation should provide the director with compensation for their copyright – usually in the form of a royalty on sales or a bonus.

What is Directors UK’s role?

Directors UK is the Collective Management Organisation (CMO) for film and TV directors in the UK. We negotiate, collect and distribute royalty payments for uses of the works directors make. Our aim is to protect directors and their copyright, ensuring they do receive a fair reward for the use of their creations and that the value of their rights is recognised and realised - now and in the future.

Directors UK negotiates an agreement with the major UK TV production companies and broadcasters (BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, Sky, S4C and Pact) covering all uses, such as UK transmissions, catch-up TV and VOD, DVD and international sales. The broadcasters pay a lump sum to Directors UK, which is then shared between the individual directors of the TV programmes used. This agreement is renegotiated on a regular basis to ensure the value of the rights is regularly reviewed. Directors UK collects and distributes tens of millions of pounds on behalf of film and television directors every year.

Copyright law itself does not automatically guarantee royalties for TV and film directors. For example, sometimes a film producer will buy out this compensation upfront in a one-off payment or fee. The result is that a TV or film director doesn’t always share in the revenues from uses of their work; even when it’s a huge success. We do have an agreement for TV programmes, but this had to be fought for and won. Without a CMO like Directors UK negotiating and collecting exclusively on behalf of directors, many would not receive any additional royalty payments for their work.

Why copyright matters

The income generated from copyright, in the form of payments for the use of a work, is a vital source of income for freelance directors, who often experience gaps in employment between projects, or whilst they develop new creative ideas. Royalty payments help provide many directors with the means to continue investing their time and energy in creating the next project for everyone to enjoy.

As the audiovisual world evolves Directors UK continues its work on behalf of all directors to achieve fair reward for all uses of their work, in whatever form that occurs. An important aspect of Directors UK’s work is lobbying UK and European governments on copyright issues affecting directors. For example, we are currently lobbying the European Union for the creation of a new right to remuneration for online uses of your work.


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