Irish producers and actors at loggerheads over future copyright payments

Actors say they receive nothing when their work is rebroadcast


The former chairman of the Labour Court, Finbarr Flood, has been asked to step in to try to resolve a long-running dispute between Irish screen actors and filmmakers over copyright payments.

Mr Flood was appointed to mediate in the dispute earlier this month by Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihan after previous attempts to resolve the issue at the Labour Relations Commission had failed.

The dispute involves the payment to actors of residuals or royalties for TV or film dramas that are rebroadcast.

The issue has become a critical one because of the proliferation of satellite television channels, digital video recorders (DVRs) such as the RTÉ Player and UPC’s On Demand service, DVDs and internet sites such as Netflix and YouTube.

Irish actors claim they are losing out because they do not receive payments for rebroadcasts and they say the failure to make such payments is out of line with other English-speaking countries.

The parties involved in the dispute are Equity Ireland, which is under the umbrella of Siptu and has 600 members, and Screen Producers Ireland (SPI).

SPI, which represents film and television production companies, maintains that Irish rates are well in excess of those paid abroad and the copyright of actors is taken into account with the upfront payments.

Creative Capital, a Government-commissioned report on the future of the Irish audiovisual industry, which was published in 2011, stated that there needed to be a new set of agreements on industrial relations in the sector as a “matter of urgency”, but there has been none to date.

Siptu’s sectoral organiser for the arts and culture Karan O’Loughlin said the issue is one of central concern to Irish actors operating in Ireland.

“Who owns the performance and how long are you going to get paid for it? There is universal agreement that the copyright issue needs to be dealt with as a matter of priority because they want to get off that upfront payment business.”

The outcome is being closely watched by Equity UK, which maintains that an agreement on residual or ongoing payments is essential as many British film and television productions are being shot in Ireland. It has been advising Equity Ireland.

In the UK, if a television series is sold to another market, 17 per cent of the sales are divided up among the actors. For a successful worldwide series such as Downton Abbey, this can amount to a considerable amount of money. “They are an enormously important part of the package of earnings for a UK-based performer,” said Martin Brown, the spokesman for Equity UK. “It is not a high-earning profession, contrary to popular belief, although there are some successful performers. These relatively modest amounts of money that can come in on a regular basis are so important in enabling an actor to stay in the profession.”

Ms O’Loughlin said Irish actors are reluctant to speak out about the issue because of the precarious nature of their profession.

SPI chief executive Barbara Galavan says the proposals put forward by Siptu would effectively double the wages of an actor in Ireland.

On any set there are two types of actors. There are the stars, who will arrange their deals on a case-by-case basis. These are the featured cast. There are also the “day players” who may be subject to a collective agreement.

Day player
A day player might typically get between €2,000 and €2,500 for a week’s work depending on the size of the production in Ireland. In the UK, they would get the Producers’ Alliance for Cinema and Television Equity model, which would mean €1,500 to €1,600 in upfront payments with possible further payments down the line.

Ms Galavan says there is “no way” the British Equity Collecting Society can make up the difference. “You can’t have your cake and eat it.”