What's Going On

The Great Divide

April 9, 2021

The head of FRAPA and The Gurin Company discusses the latest twist in the rights battle as fewer, bigger buyers strive for global domination by vacuuming up content and creatives in exclusive deals.

 

There is an increasingly alarming trend in our business that seems innocuous on the surface but is an existential threat to the entire system. I’m talking about the Devil’s Bargain between buyers and sellers in an industry whose rules of trade and commerce are changing at a lightning pace.

Recently, a few industry luminaries gathered in London to debate rights retention on intellectual property. And it struck me like a bullet to the brain that if small to medium companies and format creators are not careful, the idea of independence will soon disappear entirely. The motivation for creators to create, to build a career and a potential library of their own, will finally, irrevocably slip away, nestled in the comfortable, constricting glove of a warm paycheck upfront and that’s it. Done. Bye-bye IP.

It’s easy to understand the allure. In this rapidly changing world, where about 10 to 15 big companies will truly control the most desirable platforms for viewers to seek their entertainment, it is harder for creators and indies to keep a lasting financial stake in the fruits of their labour.

But like the strange guy in the white van parked outside a children’s playground offering “the first one is free,” once you are hooked it’s hard to get un-hooked. Sure, for a struggling creator or producer it is tempting to sell your idea to a streamer for a premium. Easy for the streamer or giant platform to spend that money to own it all outright. And a cheque is a cheque when the rent is due.

Eventually, this will lead to the big companies owning everything; the small companies will be at their mercy; independent distributors will disappear; competition will exist only between the big companies, and everyone struggling to get a footing in the business will have to decide if they want to team up with this or that Global Entertainment Giant (GEG).

Yet there is hope if people stick to their principles and inner creative compasses. The GEG’s of this world cannot create EVERY idea internally. And ultimately when they copy/rip-off or are “inspired by” underlying ideas, they will battle it out like T-Rexs and just bloody each other.

The GEGs need independent creators and companies to complement their pipelines. They need to find fresh ideas outside of their own internal ecosystems. And that’s the leverage the independent sellers need to acknowledge in order to stay strong and potentially keep, or at the very least share, the rights of their intellectual property.

How to withstand the temptations of an easy cheque? Two simple takeaways if you can. Number one, create an idea that your buyer wants and then somehow have the courage to fight to your last breath to control a piece. It may be hard, but it is not something you should roll over on just to get a one-time 130% upfront fee.

The struggle is worth it – the GEGs will rightly feel they have a zillion lawyers on payroll and you don’t. They will wear you down. Don’t quit – don’t make it easy for them. In the end you may lose, but it will be a worthy loss because you will know you battled the hardest you possibly could on your own behalf. Collectively, every battle helps others battle too – which is why FRAPA exists in the first place, to help you understand what’s at stake, and to share a collective idea about protecting the rights of format creators.

Second, easier said than done, is to have two buyers who want your idea. That’s truly the ultimate leverage, and it might just get you what you want to build that backend that might not be so mythical after all.

In the end, we may all lose to the temptations of mammon. Yet it is imperative to stand for your rights so that those of future generations will also have the chance to create that big hit and make some significant money off their idea… the better to feed their families.

If this right is lost, our successors may not even realize the freedoms and bounties that we have enjoyed ever existed. It’s a dream worth dreaming. And a fight worth fighting.

To the barricades!