Murdoch runs a gauntlet of hate

ELIZABETH HURLEY is, we understand, an actress. On 17 October she was picketed by members of the Screen Actors' Guild at a film première - not surprising since they were on strike and she had broken it by filming an ad. She issued a fulsome apology, regretting that no-one had told her about the strike, and gave $25,000 to the SAG.

Why, then, might this little story have merited a screaming front page on the Sun - "Hurley runs a gauntlet of hate"? Of course Sun owner Rupert Murdoch hates trade unions in general, but there may be a little more to it than that.

Sun front page - 'Hate mob stun Liz'

The SAG members were striking to get payments for re-use of their work. Sounds familiar? The settlement proposed to members on 10 November recognised that the union would negotiate payments to actors in ads transmitted over the internet. It doubled payments for repeats ("residuals" in the jargon) on cable television. Back when that was new technology, clients had argued that they shouldn't have to pay actors at all for repeats because they were losing so much money, poor dears. Yup, sounds familiar.

Murdoch - whose interests in avowedly fictional forms rival those he has in newspapers - has reason to be nervous. Negotiations open on 7 December in Geneva over an extension to the Berne Convention, the international law governing Authors' Rights, to give universal rights to performers in all works with moving pictures. These are under the auspices of WIPO, the World Intellectual Property Office, which is the UN body administering the Berne Convention.

The United States is opposed. At the preparatory meeting in April its resolve was stiffened by the presence of Fritz Attaway, Senior Vice President of the Motion Picture Association of America, as a member of the diplomatic delegation. They're particularly opposed to performers getting the "moral rights" to insist on a credit or to object to unreasonable distortion of their work.

Worse, the US proposal in April sought to introduce the concept of a "presumption" that any rights granted in a new treaty would be transferred to the performer's client. What use is a right it it's "presumed" that you've given it away? Exactly. Does this indicate a desire to weaken the entire concept of authors and performers having personal rights, and strengthen corporations? You bet.

The European Union proposal, by contrast, seeks straightforwardly to update the existing treaties, to extend the strong rights enjoyed by musicians to all performers. Murdoch may hate the EU for many reasons, but the Freelance suspects that they boil down to his fear that it aims to regulate his desire to exploit any opportunity for profit (and anyone) in any way he pleases. And there it goes again, wanting to give Ms Hurley the right to object to some Fox editor making her look stupid.

Expect to read between the lines of more very strange stories in the Murdoch papers in the coming weeks. And remember: the SAG ran a six-month strike of freelances, and they won it.

Last modified: 4 December 2000 - © 2000 contributors
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