TRUE DIGITAL RIGHTS MANAGEMENT
Back in 1995 Ted Hope wrote a full-throated and trenchant critique of the indie film business for Filmmaker that was entitled “Indie Film is Dead.” It’s either sad, funny, curious or fascinating (take your pick) that much of what Hope wrote 13 years ago still applies today. (If you haven’t read this piece, I really recommend hitting the link and taking a look at it.)
First, from the old Filmmaker piece:
The film industry, like all others, mystifies by design. All industries create their own vernacular, keeping the have-nots clouded in confusion. Variety takes this talent to an art form. The neophyte needs a class in how to read the trades, let alone understand them. Where is the information when you need it? Whether it’s a rolodex or a financial chart, good luck in getting up-to-date info. The industry promotes a paranoia and close-to-the-chest confidentiality in all its’ parishioners, whispering that if you don’t leap in, you’ll be out forever.
The issue Ted identified back in the ’90s — the issue of a producer’s ability to aggregate accurate information about the distribution of his film — is an even bigger one now in the age of digital distribution. While internet and download options tease us with the promise of true transactional transparency, Ted’s post reminds us that this is something we need to fight for in our contracts. As Lance Weiler and others have written, an independent filmmaker’s ability to construct a database of his or her audience — where in the country they live, who they are, etc. — will be essential for anyone attempting to build their own more self-sufficient model. On the panel Ted spoke on,, the issue of transparency was brought up with regards to IFC and it’s VOD distribution outlet and Cinetic Digital Rights Management with regards to the deals it’s negotiating with filmmakers.
Neither company, to my knowledge and according to what was said on the panel, currently does anything to provide the content generator/creator/filmmaker with access to any of the data that their work generates. I hope that’s now going to change, and what was said on that panel makes me believe it could.
Matt Dentler, Cinetic’s Digi-maven, has expressed that Cinetic’s DRM initiative is all about transparency for the filmmaker. John Sloss backed that on the panel by saying that he thought it made sense that future contracts include a provision mandating that buyers provide the digital data to the filmmakers. Not that Cinetic does that yet for its clients, but it can, and as John said, it will. Ryan Werner also replied to an earlier question that he felt that such information could be provided to the filmmakers if they asked for it (even if they did not contract for it).
Now its up to the filmmakers to demand that their lawyers craft such language. What will that be? What is the information we need? And how can we make sure that we are able to share it with each other? It would be great if an industry leader on the legal side really stepped up and showed their commitment to filmmakers’ rights and drafted something that could become industry standard. It would be great if we could link to it now! Who’s going to help?
If you are licensing your film for next to nothing, if you have decided to split your revenue with your sales agent, shouldn’t you at the very least get the information on who your audience is, where they are located, when they are watching or purchasing, whatever. If you, the filmmaker, feel forced to make this kind of deal, shouldn’t you at the very least be getting the data your work generates? As filmmakers, not only should you be asking for language from your lawyer, but demanding that your licensor, your distributor provide this. Do it and according to the leaders on the panel yesterday, they will listen and provide. I hope it is so.