Film and television actors don’t enjoy the international copyright protections afforded to, say, screenwriters or producers, who receive payment when their work is sold abroad. To address this void in international law, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), a United Nations agency, convened a conference in the Chinese capital to finalize a treaty covering performers’ rights in audiovisual productions. The location was symbolic because China has been notorious for its disregard of international copyright law.
“In deciding to convene this diplomatic conference here in Beijing, the member states of WIPO have been able to find a community of interest in the value of the performances of actors,” Francis Gurry, WIPO’s director general said in a statement.
”I hope that this week will demonstrate also that there is universality of agreement on the value of those performances and the need to protect them.”
Speaking at the conference’s opening ceremony on Wednesday, Chinese State Counselor Liu Yandong said her country is committed to protection of intellectual property (IP).
“Last year, China took new steps for and is determined to step up its implementation measures to protect IP,” she said. “We wish to establish a sound and effective IP strategy and system with a view to unleashing the dynamism of science and technology.’’
Actress Meryl Streep and performers from around the world spoke to attendees about the importance of establishing copyright protections for actors, who will also have greater control over how their images are used under the treaty.
“While digital technology creates a wealth of new opportunities for performers, it also significantly increases the risk of performers loosing control over their very own work product, through the unauthorized manipulation of their images or performances,” she said in a video played at the opening ceremony.
“That’s why I urge you to include an audiovisual right in a new International Treaty. In the same way that writers and composers depend upon royalty income for their survival in the long term, performers around the world must benefit, as well, from income from the exploitation of their work.”
Javier Bardem added his voice to Streep’s appeal.
“We are the only group of creators that still do not have an International Treaty,” the Spanish actor said. “An unbalanced industry, whose workers are not adequately protected, will fail sooner or later.”
Gurry said the new treaty would give actors what they’re asking for.
“The Beijing Treaty will enable performers to interact with greater confidence with the digital environment,” Gurry said. “It will remedy a widely perceived injustice of the unequal treatment of audiovisual performances, compared to musical performances, at the international level.”
The Beijing Treaty, which is the result of 12 years of negotiations, is expected to be signed by representatives from the 185 WIPO member states when the conference wraps on June 26.