AWG/AWGACS claims regarding Screenrights
Screenrights is a not-for-profit copyright society established in 1990 to administer provisions of the Australian Copyright Act that allow educational institutions to use radio and TV programs in return for licence fees.
Today Screenrights also administers royalties from government departments which use broadcast material as well as from pay TV companies who retransmit free-to-air programs.
In 2016/17 Screenrights distributed $43.1 million in royalties.
Anyone who owns or controls rights in a program can join Screenrights at no cost and register their claims directly. Currently Screenrights has 4,232 members.
Allegations made by AWG and AWGACS
On 3 March 2016, the Australian Writers’ Guild (AWG) and the Australian Writers’ Guild Authorship Collecting Society (AWGACS) filed Federal Court proceedings against Screenrights alleging breach of trust, breach of statutory duty, misleading and deceptive conduct, and interference in contractual relations.
The AWG/AWGACS allege Screenrights has not fairly represented writers and, over 20 years, ‘may have misdirected possibly tens of millions of dollars’ that should have been paid to writers.
Screenrights’ response to the Allegations
Screenrights totally rejects the AWG/AWGACS claims that large sums of royalties may have been misdirected.
Screenrights continues to pay royalties according to Australian law including to writers where they own the relevant rights and have registered their claim.
The ownership of rights is determined by copyright law. These rights may be varied by agreement, for example by contracts between writers and producers which are usually signed before a program is made.
Screenrights has no role in the contracting and is generally not privy to the terms agreed. For that reason, Screenrights relies at first instance on warranties provided by its members that they are the relevant rights holder. This process is used by many copyright societies around the world.
Where more than one member claims to be the rights holder, they can access Screenrights’ competing claim resolution procedures. The vast majority of competing claims for royalties are resolved by agreement between our members.
Only a small proportion of the royalties collected by Screenrights related to Australian feature films or TV dramas whose writers form the bulk of AWG / AWGACS members.
Of the more than 6 million recorded uses of programs Screenrights is managing, 99.5 percent of royalty claims are paid without any ongoing dispute.
Federal Court hearing
The matter is scheduled to be heard by Justice Jagot for three weeks in November.