Two court decisions from Europe this week illustrate how different things can be there from here.
An article from the Finnish paper Helsingin Sanomat tells of a Finnish copyright dispute that one is unlikely to encounter here: the court ordered screenings of a film stopped because the film producer was found to have violated the screenplay writer's rights:
Riisuttu mies ("Man Exposed"), a Finnish feature film directed by Aku Louhimies, is being pulled from cinemas after the Helsinki Court of Appeals ordered screenings to stop. The court found that the film’s producer, Lasihelmi Filmi, had violated the rights of Veli-Pekka Hänninen, the writer of the original screenplay.
The distributor says that it will pull all of the copies of the film, which premiered in September, and that it will also put a freeze on the publication of the DVD version, which was to have gone on sale on February 14th.
In its decision, the Court of Appeals overturned a ruling by Helsinki District Court in May, according to which the producer had not violated the rights of the scriptwriter. The lower court felt that the complaint was premature, because at the time, only a preliminary version of the film was available.
The Court of Appeals found in a unanimous ruling that the producer of Riisuttu mies had violated the writer’s exclusive rights to the script. The film was produced on the basis of the text of the scriptwriter without his permission.
According to the ruling, the "transfer of copyright does not include a more extensive right to change the work than what is agreed in the contract".
Hänninen cancelled the contract already in the summer of 2005, after Harri Räty, CEO of the production company, said that the script would be modified as much as necessary, whether or not Hänninen authorises the changes.
Lasse Saarinen, chairman of the Central Organisation of Finnish Film Producers says that the decision was unfortunate, but not unexpected.
"The wrong people will now suffer, such as the film’s distributor and the company that bought the television rights, because the producer has drawn up a contract with a scriptwriter, showing a lack of professionalism, and has apparently failed to follow the contract", Saarinen says.
Meanwhile, in Paris, the potential dangers of allowing perpetual moral rights were illustrated in the efforts of the great-great grandson of Victor Hugo to stop a sequel to Les Miserables. This story is by Kim Willsher in the January 31, 2007 The Guardian:
The great-great-grandson of Victor Hugo said yesterday he was bitterly disappointed after his six-year battle to ban a modern sequel to Les Miserables was ended by France's highest appeal court. But he vowed to continue fighting to protect what he described as his family's "moral rights" to the classic work.
"I believed we were fighting the good cause but the court decided otzherwise. It is very, very disappointing," Pierre Hugo said. "I am not just fighting for myself, my family and for Victor Hugo but for the descendants of all writers, painters and composers who should be protected from people who want to use a famous name and work just for money." Mr Hugo, 59, a goldsmith, has been fighting to have banned Cosette ou le Temps des Illusions (Cosette or the Time of Illusions), ... claiming the publishers had betrayed the spirit of his ancestor's work to make money.
Angry descendants have written to President Jacques Chirac, to the European parliament and to France's culture ministry urging them to criticise the book. In an open letter to the French newspaper Liberation they asked: "Can one imagine commissioning the 10th symphony of Beethoven?" Hugo purists were furious that [the sequel writer] resurrected Inspector Javert, the villain of Hugo's story who jumps into the Seine at the end, and recast him as a hero.
The court decision met with a sigh of relief from authors, playwrights and musical producers who had feared an end to adaptations of classical works.
The case set French copyright laws, which put a literary work in the public domain 70 years after the author's death, against the concept of an author's "moral rights". The latter are considered timeless and passed on to descendants. Mr Hugo argued that the sequel, branded Les Mis II by critics, violated the "respect of the integrity" of Les Miserables, which Hugo wrote in 1862. The first court threw out his case saying he had not proved he was related to the author.
In 2004 an appeal court overturned this verdict, ruling that an author's rights were transmissible to heirs. It called Les Miserables "a veritable monument of world literature" and agreed that Hugo "would not have accepted for a third party to write a sequel". The publishers were ordered to pay symbolic damages ... but appealed.
Yesterday the French court of cassation decided Cosette, published by Plon, did not betray the spirit of the original or breach descendants' rights. Mr Hugo said: "I don't mind adaptations and many are very good but this book is not an adaptation. I have read it and it is not badly written but the publishers used Victor Hugo's name and the title Les Miserables as a commercial operation ... It was nothing to do with literature, they were just trying to make money."
[Defendant's] lawyers argued that banning his novel would violate freedom of expression and prevent others using great works of art and literature as inspiration. Victor Hugo himself once wrote: "The writer as a writer has but one heir - the public domain."