Bill ties Channel 4 film investment to law

Government's decision follows months of lobbying

LONDON -- U.K. broadcaster Channel 4 will have a legal requirement to invest in movies once the proposed Digital Economy Bill is passed by the government here in the coming months.

The government opted to make it a statutory requirement for the broadcaster to have filmmaking enshrined in law as part of its functions, unveiled Wednesday during the state opening of Parliament.

It follows months of lobbying and discussions between the broadcaster, the U.K. Film Council and government reps. The bill will have to move through Parliament before becoming law, but it is unlikely to raise any hackles among MPs.

The U.K. Film Council welcomed the measure as "an important way of ensuring both public and private investment in U.K. film production and talent are protected into the digital future."

Channel 4 has enjoyed positive buzz from movie arm Film4's investments in last year's "Slumdog Millionaire" and upcoming "The Lovely Bones." But the unit's annual £10 million ($16 million) funding has come under pressure from a parent broadcaster whose revenue is falling amid the economic downturn.

Most industry observers were holding their breath in anticipation of the broadcaster either shutting down or scaling back its commitment to the filmmaking unit.

"Including film in Channel 4's remit for the first time is a prize the U.K. Film Council has been chasing for many year," U.K. Film Council chief John Woodward said. "Channel 4 has backed some great British films over the years, and strengthening its role in film production even further can only be good for the future of the U.K. film sector and U.K. film culture.

"For as long as Channel 4 has not been required, Film 4 has remained on a knife edge, "Woodward added. "The new legislation will finally embed film at the center of Channel 4's public service remit."

The Council also welcomed newly proposed measures to tackle online piracy. Under the proposals, legal action and consumer copyright education would be followed, if necessary, by measures such as broadband disconnection.

"Piracy hits film revenues, threatens jobs, and restricts reinvestment back into new movies," said Tim Bevan, U.K. Film Council chairman and Working Title Films co-chief. "The digital film future is a hugely exciting prospect. But one obvious downside to a fully digital world is that piracy will be made even easier, which is why we believe strongly that these measures should be supported and introduced as speedily as possible."

Film4 chief Tessa Ross said: "This is a prize we have been working towards for some time and are absolutely delighted that we are well on the way to achieving that goal. Channel 4 has supported film since its inception and volunteered a commitment to film in a new expanded digital remit back in March 2008."