On 3 March, the Australian Writers’ Guild filed an action in the Federal Court against Screenrights, seeking to recover tens of millions of dollars in royalty payments from the collecting society on behalf of its members.
The AWG has also accused Screenrights of misleading and deceptive conduct by falsely claiming to represent scriptwriters.
Screenrights is a Federal Government authority established in 1990 to administer provisions of the Copyright Act allowing educational institutions and government bodies to copy material from film, radio and television, on payment to the copyright owners. As part of its role, Screenrights collects the funds and then distributes royalties to broadcasters, producers, writers and other copyright holders.
The AWG, represents over 2,600 members, has been involved in protracted negotiations with Screenrights over the payment of royalties to writers. But it appears negotiations had faltered, prompting AWG to commence proceedings. An AWG statement claimed that ‘(F)or decades, Screenrights has favoured producers, distributors and broadcasters, distributing to them royalties that were owed to writers.’
The AWG released a statement saying “Screenrights may have misdirected possibly tens of millions of dollars in royalties that should have been paid to writers over the past two decades. Based on Screenrights’ own figures, they appear to have collected over $50million in script royalties over the past 20 years, yet AWG’s Australian members may have received as little as $350,000.’
Screenrights has indicated it will defend the action, stating ‘Screenrights pays the appropriate rights holders in accordance (with) Australian law and will defend the claims’.
The Australian Directors’ Guild has come out in support of the scriptwriters, with ADG chief executive, Kingston Anderson, stating: ‘The primary job of Screenrights is to collect and then distribute royalties to scriptwriters, directors and others in Australia’s film and TV industry… It’s clear that for many years Screenrights has failed to fulfil this critical role.’
A case management hearing has been set for April 5.