TV Giant Canal Plus Decides to Stop Paying Artists & Creators, Gets Sued

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TV giant Canal Plus has stopped paying artists and creators for content aired on its network. The pay TV provider has run up bills of tens of millions of euros with groups including SACEM, the anti-piracy outfit behind the closure of several torrent sites. The dispute has now boiled over, with four copyright groups suing the Vivendi-owned company.

It’s common for anti-piracy groups to accuse torrent, streaming, and other download sites of not paying licensing fees. As a result, dozens have been sued over the years, often with catastrophic results for the platforms involved.

It is extremely rare, however, for a bone fide broadcasting company to simply declare that it won’t be paying artists, authors, and creators, for the content they provide. Amazingly, that’s the situation playing out in France with pay TV company Canal Plus.

Owned by giant Vivendi, Canal Plus has decided that its current deals with content providers are unfavorable to the company and wants to renegotiate them. In the meantime, tens of millions of euros in royalties owed to SACEM (Society of Authors, Composers and Publishers of Music), SACD (Society of Dramatic Authors and Composers), SCAM (The Civil Society of Multimedia Authors) and ADAGP (Society of Authors in the Graphic and Plastic Arts) are going unpaid.

The decision has caused outrage among the collecting societies, with SACEM (the group that caused the closure of What.CD and French torrent giant T411) deriding Canal Plus for denying artists what is rightfully theirs.

“We are receiving many calls from panic-stricken authors who are finding themselves without the wages due to them,” a spokesman from SACEM said. “Some of them will find themselves facing serious difficulties and how will they continue to create if they have not been paid?”

Hervé Rony, general manager of The Civil Society of Multimedia Authors (SCAM) directly attacked the TV provider.

“I’ve never seen such brutality. Never has another player in the audiovisual industry deployed such methods,” Rony said.

Even filmmakers are affected by the decision to withhold royalties, with the Association of Authors, Directors, Producers (L’ARP) noting that it was “deeply shocked” at what it describes as an act of “violence.”

Although a broad range of creators is affected, local media reports say that Canal Plus’ decision not to pay copyright fees will hit the music sector first, with today being the day that payments should have been made. As a result, SCAM is warning that it may not be able to meet its obligations for the fiscal year.

Telerama reports that Canal Plus is trying to negotiate an 80% discount worth tens of millions of euros to support its cost-cutting agenda, but those demands are meeting a wall of defiance among the collecting societies.

“We only discuss between people in good faith, when they have already settled what they owe and do not renege on contracts already signed,” Rony said. “Nobody wants the death of Canal Plus. But the prerequisite for any discussion is the resumption of payments.”

In comments made by SACEM yesterday, the copyright group indicated that beyond paying what it owes now, Canal Plus only has two options available, both involving the inside of a courtroom. The first would involve a lawsuit over breach of contract and the second would see it being sued for using copyright works without a license – piracy, effectively.

“In this case, we will seek penalties for infringement. They do not have much latitude,” SACEM said.

Several of the groups owed money by Canal Plus have published statements, with SACD, SACEM, SCAM, and ADAGP indicating they will be joining forces to tackle the broadcaster, who they accuse of undermining the right of creators to get paid.

“SACEM, along with the other authors’ societies, would have liked the constructive dialogue it had conducted over the last few weeks to have resulted in Canal Plus fulfilling its contractual obligations, but failing that, was obliged to take appropriate measures, including Judicial rights, so that the rights of its members are preserved,” SACEM wrote.

With a meeting between those affected scheduled for Friday, the suggestion that legal action is already underway has now been confirmed by Variety. Citing an industry source, the publication says that Canal Plus is being sued in the Paris High Court for around 50 million euros.

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