Copyright issues fuel Canada producer debate


TORONTO -- Canadian producers insist they risk becoming fee-for-work producers if the Canadian Television Fund forces them to cede the rights to programming they produce for domestic cable and satellite giants.

"Intellectual property rights are vital. Copyright belongs to creators -- it's a hard and fast principle for us. Nobody would be successful without ownership -- otherwise I'd be doing service work for Disney," Chris Haddock, president of Haddock Entertainment ("DaVinci's Inquest"), said at a Thursday press conference attended by fellow British Columbia producers.

The protest comes on the heels of rebel cablers Shaw Communications and Groupe Videotron backing down last month and resuming monthly payments to the Canadian Television Fund after Ottawa agreed to overhaul the main source of subsidies for Canadian independent producers.

Pierre Karl Peladeau, CEO of Groupe Videotron-parent Quebecor Media, in February proposed increasing the Quebec cable giant's investment in Canadian independent production, but only if his company could hold the copyright to content it financed.

Such a move threatens to undermine a business model in which domestic cable companies and other content carriers are required to cough up 5% of annual revenues to swell the coffers at the CTF. The money is then spent on film and TV product made by independent producers, who retain ownership of copyright and the right to exploit the digital and online content that is spun off.

But if cable and satellite operators are allowed to reduce or cap their mandatory contributions to the CTF, or own the copyright of shows they help fund, the independent producers fear they will become producers with no rights in product they make for Hollywood locally or for domestic cablecasters.

"If we don't hold the copyright, we're just relegated to be a service company," Chris Bartleman, chairman of the B.C. branch of the Canadian Film & Television Production Assn. and co-owner of animation center Studio B, said.

"We wouldn't be a backlot for Universal, we'd be a backlot for cable companies and broadcasters," he added.

The fiasco surrounding the CTF comes as traditional Canadian industry players, from producers and broadcasters to cable and satellite operators, look to maximize the value of the content they own on as many emerging digital platforms as they can reach.

The difficulty is that the migration of traditional linear players to a growing constellation of digital media has wreaked havoc with copyright and other intellectual property issues in an increasingly fragmented market.

"It's important for us to build our own world, and not be completely dependent on service productions that are dependent on the U.S. dollar, strikes, or things that happen in other parts of the world," Bartleman argued.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission is reviewing the mandate of the CTF and will report back to the federal government by the end of summer.