Save authors' rights in France

30th January 2003

Dear Members of the Parliament,

Publishers are using the transposition of the Copyright Directive in France to obtain from you the assignment of staff employees' authors' rights to their employers. Publishers seem to consider that their request has already been heard and misinterpret the law by bringing court actions in the hope that this would influence the current legal situation and help to modify it. Should the law be modified in order to satisfy those who break it, or should the law protect a legislation which has been the bedrock of French creativity?

Last October, the Ministry for Culture and Communication asked the State Adviser Raphael Hadas-Lebel to carry out an investigation on creations made under employment contracts. Given the short delay (one month) imparted and the scope of action of the mission, the signatory organisations to this letter feared that the French legislation would be amended in order to introduce the complete assignment of authors' rights to employers. In the letter reporting his mission, the State Adviser Hadas lebel wrote that " the positions of employers' organisations and trade unions, particularly journalists, remained too frozen in the current context to realistically consider obtaining a minimal consensus. I would therefore suggest to establish a procedure and a programme of technical investigation and to continue the co-ordination".

Although the State Adviser said in his report that "journalists' social status together with the authors' rights' issues are included in the more general framework of freedom of expression, which has a constitutional value" he stated that although many employers acknowledge the existence of a specific remuneration they feel that the signature of the employment contract should involve the automatic assignment of authors' rights for any type of future reuse not provided for in the contract". This would contradict the International Berne Convention on authors' rights (to which France is both the initiator and one of the signatory parties) and pave the way for the introduction of the Anglo-Saxon copyright system.

The European journalists trade unions represented by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) fear that a complete assignment of authors' rights of staff journalists to their employers would "pose a major threat to the European tradition of protection for creators and writers." Such assault on authors' rights in favour of copyright would have consequences for "thousands of journalists throughout Europe". In addition, this attack would stem from a country which has been in the forefront of authors' protection. European Journalists worry that "this initiative is potentially a great leap backwards" which would threaten freedom of expression.

The French authors' rights tradition, to which the President of the French Republic is said to be well attached, created a system which ensures fair remuneration of intellectual creations, thus encouraging the value of creativity and the freedom of creators. The French authors' rights tradition played a great role in the development of the reputation of French photo-journalism, in the establishment of France at 1st rank in the publishing and magazines field, and in the great artistic wealth of France.

Will journalists end up in the same situation as painters and sculptors in the 1920s, who were robbed by art traders and gallery owners and poorly paid for giving out their future works?

Moreover the complete assignment of authors' rights would deny the individual and inalienable moral right owned by journalists on their writing, pictures, drawings and audio reports. The moral right allows authors to retain a right of inspection on their work, thus impeding the misuse of a work in a manner contrary to its initial objective, (in advertisement for instance), or an indirect use of the work, or a publication of the work which is contrary to individual or professional ethics.

Instead of creating a category of "sub authors" who would give up their right of inspection on their work, it is recommended to reinforce journalists' Status in France. The Status was initially adopted by the French Parliament in 1935 and was reaffirmed by a law dated 4th July 1974 (said "loi Cressard") and reinforced by the social partners in the national collective Agreement on journalists' work. This Status is the envy of the world because it calls for the intellectual freedom for journalists together with financial and social security granted by employment contracts. Shall we sacrifice the intellectual independence of journalists and their social status in the name of industrial logic?

The trade unions and organisations signatories to this letter will strongly oppose any break in the existing balance between journalists and publishers in the sole interest of the latter. We believe that only collective agreements negotiated with the social partners- which comply with the intellectual property code, the labour code, the social Security code and the journalists' national collective Agreement - which limit individual bargaining and enables collective societies to manage authors' rights, offer suitable equity and legal security warrants, which are indispensable to the exploitation of journalists' editorial content and respect for ethics, authors, publishers and the public.

Finally, a non freely negotiable assignment of authors' rights, or an implicit assignment contained in an employment contract would destroy the principle of freedom of information. Giving publishers the authority to block any distribution to the public, even by a third party, of an article, a photograph, a press cartoon or an audio report for which a journalist is the author undermines freedom of information, the conscience clause and therefore, the freedom of expression. This exclusive assignment would amplify negative effects on media concentration which standardize citizens' information.

For these reasons, we are asking members of Parliament to oppose any attempt to modify existing legislation in this area when the modifications would have no connection with the European Directive on authors' rights. The latter does not introduce any provision on creations made under employment contracts. We should bear in mind the potential danger that such modifications would have on a social basis. Moreover, they would give a very bad image of France around the world and would undermine democracy.

Paris, 16th January 2003

SNJ, 33, rue du Louvre, 75002 Paris

SNJ-CGT, 263, rue de Paris, 93514 Montreuil cedex

USJ-CFDT, 49, avenue Simon Bolivar, 75019 Paris

SGJ-FO, 6, rue Albert Bayet, 75013 Paris

SJ-FO, 2, rue de la Michodière, 75002 Paris

SCJ-CFTC, 13, rue des Ecluses-Saint-Martin, 75483 Paris cedex 10

ANJRPC-UPC, 121, rue Vieille du Temple, 75003 Paris FreeLens, 3, rue Simart, 75018 Paris

SAIF, 121, rue Vieille du Temple, 75003 Paris

SCAM, 5, avenue Velasquez, 75008 Paris

Further information: Pamela Morinière