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SAGA fights for Actors’ Rights

South African actors are a step closer to securing rights historically denied them, as Parliament considers amendments to two significant pieces of legislation: the Copyright Act No. 98 of 1978 and the Performers Protection Act No. 11 of 1967. Following representations by the South African Guild of Actors, Cabinet has approved the introduction of the respective Amendment Bills into Parliament for processing and SAGA is now preparing a formal presentation for the relevant portfolio committee. 

The Performers Protection Amendment Bill prioritises royalty payment wherever the work of performers is played or broadcast, as well as protection and promotion of performers’ moral and economic rights in ‘audiovisual fixations’, whether filmed, videotaped or otherwise digitally recorded. Amongst other provisions, its companion Copyright Amendment Bill seeks to regulate the accreditation and registration of collecting societies to administer these royalties and an Intellectual Property Tribunal to resolve disputes. 

Fresh in our memories is the Generations debacle at the SABC, which saw 16 actors getting the boot in a dispute over royalty payments they believed they were owed. Following what appears to have been misguided advice the group of actors appealed to public sentiment to save their jobs, a tactic that ultimately backfired and which saw the demise of the popular soapie.

 

SAGA Chairman Jack Devnarain says: “SAGA refuses to fall into the trap of reducing real industry concerns into political catchphrases that belong on T-shirts or bumper stickers. Our Guild is committed to proposing workable solutions to collective problems”.

Department of Trade and Industry spokesman, Sidwell Medupe, says “for the first time in the history of the country, any right holder, big or small will be empowered to exploit economic benefits from the copyright regime in a conducive manner”. The DTI believes that the amended legislation could grow the economy by no less than 5%, a prediction backed by a study conducted with the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) on copyright-based industries.

South Africa has yet to ratify the Beijing Treaty on Audiovisual Performance, adopted by WIPO in June 2012. Despite being party to the exhaustive negotiations that produced the accord, an outdated domestic copyright regime would prevent the country from meeting its obligations under the treaty. The adoption of the Copyright Amendment Bill will go some way towards remedying this situation. 

When the DTI published its draft bill for comment, SAGA was able to call on the expertise of the International Federation of Actors (FIA), of which it is a member, in compiling a comprehensive submission. Among its recommendations, the Guild pointed out that to give full expression to an amended Copyright Act, the Performers Protection Act would also have to be revised. The department welcomed SAGA’s submission and eagerly participated in the Guild’s subsequent FIA- sponsored seminar on Intellectual Property in the performance environment.

South African actors are increasingly being featured in international productions, while home-grown content is being sold into the rest of Africa and territories as far afield as Jamaica! In spite of this, we have grown accustomed to stories of local actors falling out of the limelight and dying as paupers. Adjusting the local copyright legislation in line with international best practice, as articulated in the Beijing Treaty, will begin to empower our actors and enable them to build sustainable careers.

Long after work offers have dried up, older actors – in Hollywood and elsewhere – survive through residual income from the body of work they have built up during their productive years. These actors enjoy the exclusive right to their own image, retaining a stake in their work product as the ‘long tail’ niche markets open up. As a film goes from the big screen to successively smaller screens on its journey from the cinema to broadcast television to DVD release and internet platforms, an increasing number of revenue streams start flowing. Soon local actors could be in line to claim their rightful share of the profits.

 

 Written by

Adrian Galley | SAGA Vice Chair & Media Liaison Cape Town

Cell: 082 9015884 | E-mail: vicecpt@saguildofactors.co.za

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