London private equity & banking law firm Crefovi is delighted to bring you this M&A, private equity & banking law blog, to provide you with forward-thinking and insightful information on the financial and corporate issues for the creative industries.
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London banking & finance law firm Crefovi advises its clients on all their financing needs, in particular, those related to the fashion and luxury goods sectors, the entertainment, music and film sectors, the art world & high tech market. Crefovi writes and curates this M&A, private equity & banking law blog to guide its clients through the complexities of banking & finance law.
We support our clients out of London, Paris and globally, in finding the best solutions to their various legal issues relating to banking and finance law, either on contentious or non-contentious matters. We also advise our clients on private equity and private equity financing matters, capital markets issuances and mergers & acquisitions.
Crefovi has experience representing either lenders and financiers, or borrowers and invested businesses (which are all trading in the creative industries), in which equity or debt is injected.
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Annabelle Gauberti, founding and managing partner of London private equity & banking law firm Crefovi, is also the president of the International association of lawyers for creative industries (ialci). This association is instrumental in providing very high quality seminars, webinars & brainstorming sessions on legal & business issues to which the creative industries are confronted.
Since its inception in 2003, the law of luxury goods and fashion law have evolved, matured, and become institutionalised as a standalone area of specialisation in the legal profession. Here is Crefovi’s 2020 status update for fashion law in France, detailing each legal practice area relevant to such creative industry.
1. Market spotlight & state of the market
1 | What is the current state of the luxury fashion market in your jurisdiction?
France is the number one player worldwide in the luxury fashion sector, as it is home to three major luxury goods conglomerates, namely:
• LVMH Moet Hennessy-Louis Vuitton SE (full year (‟FY”) 2017 luxury goods sales US$27.995 billion and the number one luxury goods company by sales FY2017, with a selection of luxury brands, such as: Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, Fendi, Bulgari, Loro Piana, Emilio Pucci, Acqua di Parma, Loewe, Marc Jacobs, TAG Heuer, Benefit Cosmetics);
• Kering SA (FY2017 luxury goods sales US$12.168 billion and the number four luxury goods company by sales FY2017, with a selection of luxury brands, such as: Gucci, Bottega Veneta, Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, Brioni, Pomellato, Girard-Perregaux, Ulysse Nardin); and
• L’Oreal Luxe (FY2017 luxury goods sales estimate US$9.549 billion and the number seven luxury goods company by sales FY2017, with a selection of luxury brands, such as: Lancome, Kiehl’s, Urban Decay, Biotherm, IT cosmetics).
2. Manufacture and distribution
2.1. Manufacture and supply chain
2 | What legal framework governs the development, manufacture and supply chain for fashion goods? What are the usual contractual arrangements for these relationships?
The French law on duty of vigilance of parent and outsourcing companies, dated 27 March 2017 (article L 225-102-4 inserted in the French commercial code), is the French response to the UK Modern Slavery Act and the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act.
This is a due diligence measure that requires large French companies to create and implement a ‟vigilance plan” aimed at identifying and preventing potential human rights violations – including those associated with subsidiaries and supply chain members.
The law applies to any company headquartered in France that has (i) 5,000 or more employees, including employees of any French subsidiaries; or (ii) 10,000 or more employees, including French and foreign subsidiaries.
The law requires that the vigilance plan address activities by the company’s subcontractors and suppliers (‟supply chain entities”), where the company maintains an ongoing business relationship with these supply chain entities, and such activities involve its business relationship. The vigilance plan, as well as the minutes related to its implementation, must be made available to the public.
As of February 2019, the enforceability of this new French law was mitigated, at best. Certain corporations had still not published a vigilance plan regardless of their legal obligation to do so (eg, Lactalis, Credit Agricole, Zara or H&M). Those that had published vigilance plans merely included them in their chapter on social and environmental responsibility within their company’s annual report. Such vigilance plans were vague and had gaps, the actions and measures were not detailed enough and only very partially addressed the risks mentioned in the risk mapping. There is, therefore, room for improvement.
The usual contractual arrangements for the relationships relating to the development, manufacture and supply chain for fashion goods in France are standard French law-governed manufacturing agreements or supplier agreements.
Such contractual arrangements are subject to the French civil code on contract law, and the general regime and proof of obligations, which was reformed in October 2016, thanks to Order No. 2016-131 of 10 February 2016. The order codified principles that had emerged from the case law of French courts, but also created a number of new rules applicable to pre-contractual, and contractual, relationships, such as:
• new article 1104 of the French civil code, which provides that contracts must be negotiated, concluded and performed in good faith, and failure to comply with such obligation can not only trigger the payment of damages, but also result in the nullification of the contract;
• new article 1112-1 provides that if a party to the contractual obligations is aware of information, the significance of which would be determinative for the consent of the other party, it must inform such other party thereof if such other party is legitimately unaware of such information, or relies on the first party;
• new article 1119 provides that general conditions invoked by a party have no effect against the other party, unless they have been made known to such other party and accepted by it. In the event of a ‘battle of the forms’, between two series of general conditions (eg, general sales conditions and general purchase conditions), those conditions that conflict are without effect;
• new article 1124, which provides that a contract concluded in violation of a unilateral promise, with a third party that knew of the existence thereof, is null and void; and
• new article 1143 provides that violence exists when a party abusing the state of dependency in which its co-contracting party finds itself, obtains from such co-contracting party an undertaking which such co-contracting party would not have otherwise agreed to in the absence of such constraint, and benefits thereby from a manifestly excessive advantage.
2.2. Distribution and agency agreements
3 | What legal framework governs distribution and agency agreements for fashion goods?
In addition to the reform of the French civil code on contract law and the general regime and proof of obligations explained in question 2 above, distribution and agency agreements for fashion goods need to comply with the following legal framework:
• European regulation (‟EU”) No. 330/2010 dated 20 April 2010 on the application of article 101(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (‟TFEU”), which places limits on restrictions that a supplier could place on a distributor or agent (the ‟Regulation”);
• article L134-1 of the French commercial code, which sets out what the agency relationship consists of;
• article L134-12 of of the French commercial code, which sets out that a commercial agent is entitled to a termination payment at the end of the agency agreement;
• books III and IV, and article L442-6 of the French commercial code, which set out that a relationship between two commercial partners needs to be governed by fairness and which prohibit any strong imbalance between the parties; and
• the law No. 78-17 dated 6 January 1978 relating to IT, databases and freedom (the ‟French Data Protection Act”) and its implementation decree No. 2005-1309.
French luxury houses often use selective distribution to sell their products. It is, indeed, the most-used distribution technique for perfumes, cosmetics, leather accessories or even ready-to-wear.
The Regulation provides for an exemption system to the general prohibition of vertical agreements set out in article 101(1) of the TFEU. The lawfulness of selective distribution agreements is always assessed via the fundamental rules applying to competition law, in particular article 101 of the TFEU.
Selective distribution systems may qualify for block exemption treatment under the vertical agreements block exemption set out in article 101(3) of the TFEU.
4 | What are the most commonly used distribution and agency structures for fashion goods, and what contractual terms and provisions usually apply?
Under French law, it is essential to avoid any confusion between a distribution agreement and an agency agreement.
French law sets out that a distributor is an independent natural person or legal entity, who buys goods and products from the manufacturer or supplier and resells them to third parties, upon the agreed trading conditions, and at a profit margin set by such distributor.
A distributor may be appointed for a particular territory, either on an exclusive, or non-exclusive, basis.
Under French law, there is no statutory compensation for the loss of clientele and business due to the distributor upon expiry or termination of a distribution agreement. However, French case law has recently recognised that some compensation may be due when some major investments had been made by the distributor, on behalf of the manufacturer or supplier, in the designated territory.
Moreover, there is no statutory notice period to terminate a distribution agreement under French law. However, most distribution agreements set out a three-to-six-month termination notice period. French law sets out a detailed legal framework relating to the role of commercial agent, which is of a ‘public policy’ nature (ie, one cannot opt out from such statutory legal provisions). In particular, commercial agents must be registered as such, on a special list held by the registrar of the competent French commercial court.
Under French law, not only is it very difficult to terminate a commercial agent (except for proven serious misconduct), but also there is a statutory considerable compensation for the loss of clientele and business that is due to the terminated agent by the manufacturer or supplier.
Selective distribution is the most commonly used distribution structure for luxury goods in France, as explained in question 3.
Such selective distribution systems of luxury products can escape the qualification of anticompetitive agreements, pursuant to article 101(3) of the TFEU (individual and block exemption). However, in 2011, the European Court of Justice (‟ECJ”) held that the selective distribution agreement that has as its object the restriction of passive sales to online end-users outside of the dealer’s area excluded the application of the block exemption in its decision in Pierre Fabre Dermo-Cosmétique SAS v Président de l’Autorité de la concurrence and Ministre de l’Économie, de l’Industrie et de l’Emploi. The ECJ ruled that it was down to the French courts to determine whether an individual exemption may benefit such selective distribution agreement imposed by French company Pierre Fabre Dermo-Cosmétique SAS to its distributors. To conclude, it is clear that the ECJ set out that the prohibition of internet sales, in a distribution agreement, constitutes an anticompetitive restriction.
2.3. Import and export
5 | Do any special import and export rules and restrictions apply to fashion goods?
A French company, upon incorporation, will be provided with the following numbers by the French authorities:
• an intra-community VAT number, provided to all companies incorporated in a EU member state;
• a SIRET number, which is a unique French business identification number; and
• an EORI number, which is assigned to importers and exporters by the French tax authorities, and is used in the process of customs entry declaration and customs clearance for both import and export shipments, travelling to and from the EU and countries outside the EU.
Fashion and luxury products manufactured outside of the EU, and brought into the EU, will be deemed to be imports, by French customs authorities.
In case such fashion and luxury products are transferred from France, or another member state of the EU, to a third party country in the rest of the world (outside of the EU), then these products will be deemed to be exports by French customs authorities.
For imports of fashion and luxury products, (ie, when they enter the EU), the French importer will have to pay some customs duties or other taxes when it imports these products from a third-party country to France or another member state of the EU.
Such customs duties are the same in each of the 27 member states of the EU because they are set by EU institutions. The importer can compute such customs duties by accessing the RITA encyclopedia, which sets out the integrated referential to an automated tarif, for each luxury and fashion product.
Through rather complex manipulations on the RITA encyclopedia, the importer can find out the relevant customs duties, additional taxes and any other fees (such as anti-dumping rights) payable for each type of fashion product and other imported merchandise.
For example, if you are importing a man’s shirt in France or any other EU member state from China, there will be a 12 percent customs duty to pay (the ‟Customs duty”).
Such Customs duty will be payable on the price paid to the Chinese manufacturer for the man’s shirt in China plus all transportation costs from China to France (or another EU member state).
Therefore, if the man’s shirt has a manufacturing price (set out on the invoice of the Chinese manufacturer) of €100, and if there are €50 of transportation costs, the customs value basis will be €150 and the customs duty amount will be €18 (€150 multiplied by 12 per cent).
The computation of Customs duties, additional taxes and other charges being such a complicated and specialised area, and the filling out of customs declarations being done only on the Delta software that is accessible only to legal entities that have received an authorisation to use such software, most EU companies that sell fashion and luxury goods use the services of registered customs representatives, also called customs brokers or customs agents.
For exports of fashion and luxury products (ie, when they leave the EU to go to a third party in the rest of the world), a French company will not have to pay any Customs duties or other taxes. However, it is also important to check whether such third-party country will charge the French exporter some Customs duties, additional taxes and other charges, upon the luxury and fashion products entering its territory.
In addition, it is important for the importers to double check whether the EU, and consequently France, may be giving preferential treatment to fashion and luxury products imported from certain developing countries, which names are set out on the list entitled ‟Système Généralisé de Préférence” (‟SPG”). SPG is a programme of trade preferences for goods coming from developing countries, such as Bangladesh, Vietnam, etc. It may be financially more advantageous to manufacture luxury and fashion products in the countries that are included on the SPG list, to ensure that lower tariffs and Customs duties will apply when importing these products to the EU.
Finally, and especially if the goods are in the luxury bracket, it may be possible to put a ‟Made in France” label on them, provided that such products were assembled in France.
2.4. Corporate social responsibility and sustainability
6 | What are the requirements and disclosure obligations in relation to corporate social responsibility and sustainability for fashion and luxury brands in your jurisdiction? What due diligence in this regard is advised or required?
As explained in question 2 above, the French law on duty of vigilance for parent and outsourcing companies, dated 27 March 2017 (article L 225-102-4 inserted in the French commercial code) is the legal framework that applies to disclosure obligations in relation to corporate social responsibility and sustainability for fashion and luxury brands in France.
The vigilance plan made compulsory by such French law must set out a detailed risk mapping stating the risks for third parties (ie, employees, the general population) and the environment. French companies subject to this law must then publish their risk mapping, explicitly and clearly stating the serious risks and severe impacts on health and safety of individuals and on the environment. In particular, the vigilance plan should provide detailed lists of risks for each type of activity, product and service.
It is these substantial risks (ie, negative impacts on third parties and the environment deriving from general activities) on which vigilance must be exercised and which the plan must cover. Moreover, the vigilance plan must include the evaluated severity criteria regarding the level, size and reversible or irreversible nature of the impacts, or the probability of the risk. This prioritisation should allow the French company to structure how it implements its measures to resolve the impacts or risks of impact.
The vigilance plan, as well as the minutes related to its implementation, must be made available to the public.
The French law on duty of vigilance of parent and outsourcing companies sets out some stringent enforcement mechanisms. Any person with a demonstrable interest may demand that a company comply with the due diligence requirements (i.e. creating and implementing a vigilance plan) and, if the French company fails to comply, a court may fine the offending company up to €10 million, depending on the severity of the breach and other circumstances. Additionally, if the activities of a French company – or the activities of its supply chain entities – cause harm that could have been avoided by implementing its vigilance plan, the size of the fine can be trebled (up to €30 million), depending on the severity and circumstances of the breach and the damage caused, and the company can be ordered to pay damages to the victims.
7 | What occupational health and safety laws should fashion companies be aware of across their supply chains?
As set out above in our answers to the questions set out in sub-paragraphs 2.2. and 2.4. above, the French law on duty of vigilance of parent and outsourcing companies, dated 27 March 2017 (article L 225-102-4 inserted in the French commercial code) is the legal framework that applies to disclosure obligations in relation to occupational health and safety across their supply chains, for fashion and luxury brands in France.
In addition, the main legislation on occupational health and safety in France is set out in Part IV of the French labour code, entitled ‟Health and Safety at Work”. Health and safety at work legislation is supplemented by other parts of this labour code (ie, work time legislation, daily rest period, respect of fundamental freedoms, bullying, sexual harassment, discrimination, execution in good faith of the employment agreement, work council competencies, employee delegates’ abilities).
Collective bargaining is also a source of health and safety legislation (via inter-branch agreements, branch agreements, company-level agreements) in France. These collective agreements regulate employer versus employee relationships, in particular as far as occupation health and safety are concerned.
3. Online retail
8 | What legal framework governs the launch of an online fashion marketplace or store?
The Hamon law dated 17 March 2014 (‟Hamon law”) transposes the provisions of the Directive 2011/83/EU on consumer rights, which aims at achieving a real business-to-consumer internal market, striking the right balance between a high level of consumer protection and the competitiveness of businesses. This law strengthened pre-contractual information requirements, in relation to:
• the general duty to give information that applies to any sales of goods or services agreement entered into on a business-to- consumer basis (for on-premises sales, distance sales and off-premises sales); and
• information specific to distance contracts about the existence of a withdrawal right.
Thanks to this law, the withdrawal period has been extended from 7 to 14 days. It introduced the use of a standard form that can be used by consumers to exercise their withdrawal rights. Such form must be made available to consumers online or sent to them before the contract is entered into. If a consumer exercises this right, the business must refund the consumer for all amounts paid, including delivery costs, within a period of 14 calendar days.
With respect to the cookies policy, e-commerce stores must comply with the cookies and other tracking devices guidelines published by the CNIL in July 2019.
3.2. Sourcing and distribution
9 | How does e-commerce implicate retailers’ sourcing and distribution arrangements (or other contractual arrangements) in your jurisdiction?
As explained in our answer to question 4, luxury and fashion brands (manufacturers, suppliers) cannot ban their distributors from selling their products online, through e-commerce, since this would be a competition law breach under article 101 of the TFEU, entitled an anticompetitive restriction.
However, luxury and fashion brands may impose some criteria and conditions for their distributors to be able to sell their products online, in order to preserve the luxury aura and prestige of their products sold online, via the terms of their distribution agreements.
3.3. Terms and conditions
10 | What special considerations would you take into account when drafting online terms and conditions for customers when launching an e-commerce website in your jurisdiction?
As explained in our answer to question 8, these terms and conditions for customers of an e-commerce website must comply with the GDPR, the French Data Protection Act and the cookies and other tracking devices guidelines from the CNIL.
Therefore, those terms must comply with the following principles:
• privacy by design, which means that fashion and luxury businesses must take a proactive and preventive approach in relation to the protection of privacy and personal data;
• accountability, which means that data controllers, such as an e-commerce website, as well as its data processors, must take appropriate legal, organisational and technical measures allowing them to comply with the GDPR. They must be able to demonstrate the execution of such measures to the CNIL;
• privacy impact assessment, which means that an e-commerce business must execute an analysis relating to the protection of personal data, on its data assets, to track and map risks inherent to each data process and treatment put in place, according to their plausibility and seriousness;
• a data protection officer must be appointed, to ensure the compliance of treatment of personal data by fashion businesses whose data treatments present a strong risk of breach of privacy;
• profiling, which is an automated processing of personal data allowing the construction of complex information about a particular person, such as his or her preferences, productivity at work and whereabouts. This type of data processing may constitute a risk to civil liberties; therefore, online businesses doing profiling must limit their risks and guarantee the rights of individuals subjected to such profiling, in particular by allowing them to request human intervention or contest the automated decision; and
• right to be forgotten, which allows an individual to avoid that information about his or her past that interferes with their current, actual life. In the digital world, that right encompasses the right to erasure, as well as the right to dereferencing.
11 | Are online sales taxed differently than sales in retail stores in your jurisdiction?
No, online sales are not taxed differently than sales executed in brick-and- mortar stores. They are all subjected to a 20 percent VAT rate, which is the standard VAT rate in France, and which is applicable on all fashion and luxury products.
4. Intellectual property
4.1. Design protection
12 | Which IP rights are applicable to fashion designs? What rules and procedures apply to obtaining protection?
French fashion designs are usually protected via the registration of a design right in France, with the Institut National de la Propriété Industrielle (‟INPI”). Articles L 512-1 et seq and R 511-1 et seq of the French intellectual property code govern the design application and registration process.
Of course, this French design protection applies in addition to any registered or unregistered community design right that may exist.
To qualify for protection through the French design right, the design must be novel and have individual character. Functional forms, as well as designs in breach of public policy or morality, are excluded from protection.
French fashion designs are protected by copyright, as long as they meet the originality criteria. Indeed, article L 112-2 14 of the French intellectual property code provides that ‟the creations of the seasonal industries of garments and dresses” fall within the remit of copyright, as ‟works of the mind”.
Copyright being an unregistrable intellectual property right in France, the existence of copyright on fashion products is often proven via the filing of an ‟enveloppe SOLEAU” with INPI, or by keeping all prototypes, drawings and research documents on file, to be able to prove the date on which such copyright arose.
Indeed, under the traditional principle of unity of art, a creation can be protected by copyright and design law. Recent case law distinguishes between these IP rights, by stating that the originality required for copyright protection differs from the individual character required for design protection, and that both rights do not necessarily overlap.
In the same way, the scope of copyright protection is determined by the reproduction of the creation’s main features; while in design law the same overall visual impression on the informed user is required.
As far as the ownership of commissioned works is concerned, the default regime in France is that both an independent creator (i.e. a fashion freelancer, contractor, creative director) and an employee of any French fashion house is automatically deemed to be the lawful owner of all intellectual property rights on a fashion and luxury item that he or she has created during the course of his or her service or employment. Therefore, it is essential in all French law-governed service providers agreements entered into with third-party consultants, and in all French law-governed employment agreements entered into with employees, to set out that an automatic and irrevocable assignment of all intellectual property rights in any fashion creation will always occur, upon creation.
13 | What difficulties arise in obtaining IP protection for fashion goods?
France enjoys the most extensive and longstanding intellectual property rights in connection with fashion designs. As explained in our answer to question 12, copyright protection is extended to any original work of the mind.
Even spare parts are protectable under French design law, which means that a design protecting only a spare part (eg, a bag clip) is valid without taking into consideration the product as a whole (ie, the bag).
Therefore, IP protection for fashion goods is very achievable in France, and it is important for applicants to systematically register their designs (not rely simply on copyright law) to be on the safe side.
4.2. Brand protection
14 | How are luxury and fashion brands legally protected in your jurisdiction?
Luxury and fashion brands are usually protected by a French trade mark registration filed with INPI.
French trade marks are governed mainly by law 1991-7, which implements the EU first council directive related to trade marks (89/104/EEC) and is codified in the French intellectual property code. This code was amended several times, in particular by Law 2007-1544, which implements the EU IP rights enforcement directive (2004/48/EC).
Ownership of a trade mark is acquired through registration, except for well-known trademarks within the meaning of article 6 bis of the Paris convention for the protection of industrial property dated 20 March 1883. Such unregistered well-known trademarks may be protected under French law if an unauthorised use of the trade mark by a third party is likely to cause damage to the trade mark owner or such use constitutes an unjustified exploitation of the trade mark.
To be registered as a trademark, a sign must be:
• represented in a way that allows any person to determine precisely and clearly the subject-matter of the trade mark protection granted to its owner;
• not deceptive;
• lawful; and
French trademarks, registered with INPI, may coincide with EU trademarks (filed with the European Union Intellectual Property Office (‟EUIPO”)) and international trademarks (filed with the Word Intellectual Property Office (‟WIPO”), through the Madrid protocol).
Under French law, unauthorised use of a trade mark on the internet also constitutes trade mark infringement. The rights holder may sue those that unlawfully use its trade mark on the ground of trade mark infringement or unfair competition.
Moreover, luxury and fashion brands are also protected by domain names, which may be purchased from domain name registrars for a limited period of time on a regular basis.
French domain names finishing in .fr can only be purchased for one year, once a year, pursuant to the regulations of the French registry for .fr top level domains, Afnic.
It is the responsibility of the person purchasing, or using, the domain name in .fr to ensure that he or she does not breach any third party rights by doing so.
A dispute resolution procedure called Syreli is available for disputes relating to .fr domains, along with judiciary actions. This procedure is managed by Afnic and decisions are issued within two months from receipt of the complaint.
With online ransom, a proliferation of websites being used for counterfeit sales, fraud, phishing and other forms of online trade mark abuse, most French luxury and fashion companies take the management and enforcement of domain name portfolios very seriously.
With the advent of new generic top-level domains (generic top-level domains or ‟gTLDs”), it is now an essential strategy for all French luxury and fashion houses to buy and hold onto all available gTLDs relating to fashion and luxury (eg, .luxury, .fashion, .luxe).
15 | What rules, restrictions and best practices apply to IP licensing in the fashion industry?
French IP rights may be assigned, licensed or pledged. The French intellectual property code refers to licences over trade marks, patents, designs and models, as well as databases. With respect to copyright, this code only refers to the assignment of the patrimonial rights of the author (ie, representation right and reproduction right) in its article L122-7. In practice, copyright licences often occur, especially over software.
When it involves French design rights, the corresponding deed, contract or judgment must be recorded in the French Design register, to be enforceable against third parties. The documents must be in French (or a translation must be provided). Tax will be incurred only up to the 10th design, in a recordal request filed with INPI. For community designs, recordal must be made with EUIPO. For the French designation of an international design, recordal must be requested through WIPO for all or part of the designation.
When it involves French trade marks, the corresponding deed, contract or judgment should be recorded in the INPI French trade mark register, especially for evidentiary and opposability purposes, for the licensee to be able to act in infringement litigation and for such deed, contract or judgment to be enforceable against third parties. Again, the copy or abstract of the deed, or agreement, setting out the change in ownership or use of the trade marks should be in French (or a French translation be provided).
Of course, copyright of fashion products does not have to be recorded in any French register, as there is no registration requirement for French copyright. However, best practice is for the parties to the deed, agreement or judgment to keep, on record, for the duration of the copyright (70 years after the death of the creator of the copyright) such documents, so that the copyright assignment, pledge or licence may be enforceable against third parties.
Fashion brands such as Tommy Hilfiger, Benetton and Ermenegildo Zegna use franchising to access new markets, increase their online presence and develop flagship stores. Franchise agreements generally include a trade mark, trade name or service mark licence, as well as the transfer of knowhow by the franchisor, to the franchisee. On this note, knowhow licences exist in France, although knowhow does not constitute a proprietary right benefiting from specific protection under the French intellectual property code.
A licensor must make some pre-contractual disclosure to prospective licensees, pursuant to article L330-3 of the French commercial code, when he or she makes available to another person a trade name or a trademark, and requires from such other person an exclusivity undertaking with respect to such activity. The precontractual information must be disclosed in a document provided at least 20 days prior to the signature of the licence agreement. Such document must contain truthful information allowing the licensee to commit to the contractual relationship in full knowledge of the facts.
A licensing relationship governed by French law must comply with the general contract law principles, including the negotiation, conclusion and performance of contracts in good faith (article 1104 of the French civil code). This statutory legal provision implies an obligation on each party of loyalty, cooperation and consistency. In case of breach of this good faith principle, the licence may be terminated and damages potentially awarded.
16 | What options do rights holders have when enforcing their IP rights? Are there options for protecting IP rights through enforcement at the borders of your jurisdiction?
Lawsuits involving the infringement or validity of a French design, or the French designation of an international design, may be lodged with one of the 10 competent courts of first instance (Bordeaux, Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Nanterre, Nancy, Paris, Rennes, Strasbourg and Fort-de-France).
Lawsuits involving the infringement, in France, of a registered or unregistered community design may be lodged only with the Paris court of first instance. An invalidity action against a community design may only be brought before EUIPO. However, invalidity may be claimed as a defence in an infringement action brought before the Paris tribunal.
The scope of protection for the design is determined exclusively by the various filed views, on the design registration, irrespective of actual use. Therefore, applicants should pay great care to those views, when filing a design application, so as to anticipate the interpretation made by the judiciary tribunal.
Infringement is identified when a third-party design produces, on the informed observer, the same overall visual impression as the claimant’s design.
The infringement lawsuit may be lodged by the design owner, or the duly recorded exclusive licensee.
The claimant will be indemnified for lost profits, with the court taking into account: (i) the scope of the infringement; (ii) the proportion of actual business lost by the claimant; and (iii) the claimant’s profit margin for the retail of each unit.
Damages may also be awarded for the dilution or depreciation of a design.
As far as trademarks are concerned, lawsuits may be lodged before the 10 above-mentioned competent courts at first instance if they are French trademarks or the French designation of an international trademark. Lawsuits relating to the infringement of EU trade marks may only be lodged with the Paris judiciary tribunal.
Such infringement proceedings may be lodged by either the trademark owner or the exclusive licensee, provided that the licence was recorded in the trademark register.
To determine trademark infringement, the judiciary tribunal will assess: (i) the similarity of the conflicting trademarks, on the basis of visual, phonetic and intellectual criteria; and (ii) the similarity of the goods or services, bearing such trademarks, concerned. Such trademark infringement may be evidenced by any means.
To secure evidence of the infringement, and to obtain any information related to it, rights holders may ask, and obtain, from the competent judiciary tribunal, an order to carry out a seizure on the premises where the products that infringe the copyright, trademarks, designs, etc. are located. Such order authorises a bailiff to size the suspected infringing products, or to visit the alleged infringer’s premises to collect evidence of the infringement by taking pictures of the suspected infringing products, or by taking samples. The IP rights holder must lodge a lawsuit against the alleged infringer with the competent judiciary tribunal within 20 working days, or 31 calendar days, whichever is the longer, from the date of the seizure. Otherwise, the seizure may be declared null and void on the request of the alleged infringer, who may also ask for some damages.
In addition, IP rights holders may also request an ex parte injunction, to prevent an imminent infringement, which is about to happen, or any further infringement, to the competent judiciary tribunal.
Infringement action, for all IP rights, must be brought within three years of the infringement. There is one exception, for copyright, which statute of limitations is five years from the date on which the copyright owner was made aware, or should have been aware, of such copyright infringement.
There is also an option to protect design rights, copyright, trade marks, patents, etc at French borders, which we often recommend to our fashion and luxury clients. They need to file their IP rights with the Directorate-General of Customs and Indirect Taxes, via a French and EU intervention request, and obtain some certifications from those French customs authorities, that such IP rights are now officially registered on the French and EU customs databases. Therefore, all counterfeit products infringing such IP rights registered on these French and EU customs databases, which enter the EU territory via French borders, will be seized by customs at French borders for 10 days. Potentially, provided that certain conditions are met, French customs may permanently destroy all counterfeit products thus seized, after 10 days.
5. Data privacy and security
17 | What data privacy and security laws are most relevant to fashion and luxury companies?
As explained in questions 8 and 10, fashion and luxury companies must comply with the GDPR, the French Data Protection Act and the cookies and other tracking devices guidelines from the CNIL.
5.2. Compliance challenges
18 | What challenges do data privacy and security laws present to luxury and fashion companies and their business models?
The strict compliance with the GDPR, as well as the amended version of the French Data Protection Act, do present some challenges to luxury and fashion companies and to their business models.
Indeed, on a factual level, most small and medium-sized enterprises (‟SMEs”) incorporated in France are still not in compliance with the GDPR, the French Data Protection Act and the cookies and other tracking devices guidelines from the CNIL. Most of the time this is because such SMEs do not want to allocate time, money and resources to bringing their business in compliance, while they are fully aware that a serious breach may trigger a fine worth up to 4 per cent of their annual worldwide turnover, or €20 million, whichever is greater.
Fashion and luxury companies now have to take ownership of, and full responsibility for, the rigorous management and full protection of their data assets. They can no longer rely on a ‘I was not aware this may happen’ defence strategy, which was very often used by fashion companies before the GDPR entered into force when their internal databases or IT systems got hacked or leaked to the public domain (eg, Hudson’s Bay Co, which owns Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy’s, Bloomingdales, Adidas, Fashion Nexus, Poshmark). The way to rise up to such challenge, though, is to see the GDPR as an opportunity to take stock of what data your company has, and how you can take most advantage of it. The key tenet of GDPR is that it will give any fashion company the ability to find data in its organisation that is highly sensitive and high value, and ensure that it is protected adequately from risks and data breaches.
With the GDPR, almost all fashion and luxury businesses worldwide that sell to EU customers (and therefore French customers), either online or in brick and mortar locations, now have a Data Protection Authority (‟DPA”). Businesses will determine their respective DPA with respect to the place of establishment of their management functions as far as supervision of data processing is concerned, which will allow them to identify the main establishment, including when a sole company manages the operations of a whole group. However, the GDPR sets up a one-stop DPA: in case of absence of a specific national legislation, a DPA located in the EU member state in which such organisation has its main or unique establishment will be in charge of controlling its compliance with the GDPR. This unique one-stop DPA will allow companies to substantially save time and money by simplifying processes.
To favour the European data market and the digital economy, and therefore create a more favourable economic environment, the GDPR reinforces the protection of personal data and civil liberties. This unified regulation will allow businesses to substantially reduce the costs of processing data currently incurred in the 27 member states: organisations will no longer have to comply with multiple national regulations for the collection, harvesting, transfer and storing of data that they use.
The scope of the GDPR extends to companies that are headquartered outside the EU, but intend to market goods and services into the EU market, as long as they put in place processes and treatments of personal data relating to EU citizens. Following these EU residents on the internet to create some profiles is also covered by the scope of the GDPR. Therefore, EU companies, subject to strict and expensive rules, will not be penalised by international competition on the EU single market. In addition, they may buy some data from non-EU companies, which is compliant with GDPR provisions, therefore making the data market wider.
The right to portability of data allows EU citizens subjected to data treatment and processing to gather this data in an exploitable format, or to transfer such data to another data controller, if this is technically possible. Compliance with the right to portability is definitely a challenge for fashion and luxury businesses.
5.3. Innovative technologies
19 | What data privacy and security concerns must luxury and fashion retailers consider when deploying innovative technologies in association with the marketing of goods and services to consumers?
Innovative technologies, such as AI and facial recognition, involve automated decision making, including profiling. The GDPR has provisions on:
• automated individual decision making (making a decision solely by automated means without any human involvement); and
• profiling (automated processing of personal data to evaluate certain things about an individual), which can be part of an automated decision-making process.
These provisions, set out in article 22 of the GDPR, should be taken into account by fashion and luxury businesses when deploying innovative technologies. In particular, they must demonstrate that they have a lawful basis to carry out profiling or automated decision making, and document this in their data protection policy. Their Data Protection Impact Assessment should address the risks, before they start using any new automated decision making or profiling. They should tell their customers about the profiling and automated decision making they carry out, what information they use to create the profiles, and where they get this information from. Preferably, they should use anonymised data in their profiling activities.
5.4. Content personalisation and targeted advertising
20 | What legal and regulatory challenges must luxury and fashion companies address to support personalisation of online content and targeted advertising based on data-driven inferences regarding consumer behaviour?
There is a tension, and irrevocable difference, between the GDPR’s push towards more anonymisation of data, and the personalisation of online content and targeted advertising based on data-driven inferences regarding consumer behaviour. This is because the latter needs data that is not anonymous, but, instead, traceable to each individual user.
Indeed, a fashion and luxury business cannot truly personalise an experience in any channel – a website, a mobile app, through email campaigns, in advertising or events in a store – unless it knows something about that customer, and the luxury business cannot get to know someone digitally unless it collects data about him or her. The GDPR and the increasing concerns around privacy complicate this process.
However, GDPR does not prohibit fashion businesses from collecting any data on customers and prospects. However, they must do so in compliance with the core GDPR principles set out in question 10.
6. Advertising and marketing
6.1. Law and regulation
21 | What laws, regulations and industry codes are applicable to advertising and marketing communications by luxury and fashion companies?
Advertising and marketing communications are regulated by the following French laws:
• law dated 10 January 1991 (‟Evin law”) that prohibits advertising alcohol on French TV channels and in cinemas, and limits such advertising on radio and on the internet;
• law dated 4 August 1994 (‟Toubon law”) that provides that the French language must be used in all advertising in France; and
• decree dated 27 March 1992 that provides for specific rules relating to advertising on TV.
Various legal codes set out some specific rules governing advertising and marketing communications in France, such as: the French consumer code, which prohibits deceptive and misleading advertising, and regulates comparative advertising; or article 9 of the French civil code, which protects individuals’ images and privacy.
Moreover, there are some industry codes of practice, drafted by the French advertising self-regulation agency (‟ARPP”), which represents advertisers, agencies and the media. These codes of practice set out the expected ethical standards and ensure proper implementation of these standards, through advice and pre-clearance, including providing mandatory advice before the broadcast of all TV advertising.
The French consumer and competition governmental authority (‟DGCCRF”) has investigative powers in relation to all matters relating to the protection of consumers, including advertising and marketing practices.
DGCCRF agents are entitled to enter the professional premises of the advertiser, advertising agency or communication agency during business hours to request an immediate review of documents, take copies of these documents, and ask questions.
The ARPP works with an independent jury that handles complaints against advertisements that violate ARPP standards. Its decisions are published on its website.
If there is a data breach within a marketing campaign, the CNIL, the French DPA, may fine the culprit data controller (such as an advertiser or an agency) up to €20 million, or 4 percent of their worldwide annual turnover, whichever is the highest.
6.2. Online marketing and social media
22 | What particular rules and regulations govern online marketing activities and how are such rules enforced?
Online marketing activities are regulated in the same manner as activities conducted in the ‟real world”, pursuant to the French digital economy law dated 21 June 2004. However, more specific to the online world, the digital economy law provides that pop-ups, advert banners, and any other types of online adverts must be clearly identified as such and therefore distinguished from non-commercial information.
Article L121-4-11 of the French consumer code provides that an advertiser who pays for content in the media to promote its products or services must clearly set out that such content is an advertisement, through images or sounds clearly identifiable by consumers. Otherwise, this is a misleading advert or an act of unfair competition.
The ARPP issued a standard relating to digital adverts, communications carried out by influencers, native advertising, etc emphasising the fact that all such online marketing communications and advertising should be clearly distinguishable as such by consumers.
7. Product regulation and consumer protection
7.1. Product safety rules and standards
23 | What product safety rules and standards apply to luxury and fashion goods?
French law dated 19 May 1998, which is now set out in articles 1245 et seq of the French civil code, transposes EU directive 85/374/EEC on the liability for defective products in France.
Alongside this strict civil liability for defective products exists some criminal liability for defective products on the grounds of deceit, involuntary bodily harm, involuntary manslaughter or endangering the lives of others.
Articles 1245 et seq. of the French civil code apply when a product is considered unsafe. Therefore, a fashion business would be liable for damage caused by a defect in its products, regardless of whether or not the parties concluded a contract. Consequently, these statutory rules apply to any end-user in possession of a fashion product, whether or not such end-user had entered into an agreement with the fashion company.
Articles 1245 et seq. of the French civil code provide for a strict liability, where the claimant does not need to prove that the ‘producer’ made a mistake, committed an act of negligence or breached a contract. The claimant only has to prove the defect of the product, the damage suffered and the causal link between such defect and such damage.
A defective product is defined in article 1245-3 of the French civil code, as a product that does not provide the safety that any person is entitled to expect from it, taking into account, in particular, the presentation of such product, the use that can reasonably be expected of it and the date on which it was put on the market.
Such strict civil liability rules apply to the ‟producer”, a term that may refer to the manufacturer, the distributor, as well as the importer in the EU, of defective products.
As soon as a risk of a defective product is recognised, the ‟producer” should comply with its duty of care and take all necessary actions to limit harmful consequences, such as a formal public warning, a product recall or the mere withdrawal of such product from the market.
7.2. Product liability
24 | What regime governs product liability for luxury and fashion goods? Has there been any notable recent product liability litigation or enforcement action in the sector?
The regime governing product liability for luxury and fashion goods is described in our answer to question 22.
The Hamon law introduced class action for French consumers. Consequently, an accredited consumer association may take legal action to obtain compensation for individual economic damages suffered by consumers placed in an identical or similar situation, that result from the purchase of goods or services.
There has been no notable recent product liability litigation in the fashion and luxury sectors. However, a health class action matter is currently pending before the Paris judiciary tribunal. A pharmaceutical company was sued by 4,000 French individuals because it sold an anti-epileptic drug without providing adequate information relating to the use of such drug during pregnancy. As a result, some French babies were born with health defects because such drug has detrimental effects on foetal development. The judiciary tribunal should hand down its decision about the laboratory’s liability soon.
8. M&A and competition issues
8.1. M&A and joint ventures
25 | Are there any special considerations for M&A or joint venture transactions that companies should bear in mind when preparing, negotiating or entering into a deal in the luxury fashion industry?
As set out in question 2, the general contract law provisions included in the French civil code, which underwent a major reform in 2016, must be complied with. Therefore, for private M&As, the seller would seek to promote competition between different bidders through a competitive sale process, which conduct must comply with the statutory duty of good faith.
In France, it is compulsory for the transfer of assets and liabilities from the seller to the buyer to cover all employment contracts, commercial leases and insurance policies pertaining to the business. Except from those, all other assets and liabilities relating to the transferred business may be excluded from the transfer transaction by agreement. Furthermore, the transfer of contracts requires the approval from all relevant counterparties, thus making the prior identification of such contracts in the course of the due diligence an important matter for any prospective buyer.
In private M&As, there is no restriction to the transfer of shares in a fashion company, a fashion business or assets in France. However, French merger control regulations (in addition to merger control regulations of other EU member states) may require a transaction to be filed with the French competition authority (‟FCA”) if: (i) the gross worldwide total turnover of all the fashion companies involved in the concentration exceeds €150 million; and (ii) the gross total turnover generated individually in France by each of at least two of the fashion companies involved in the concentration exceeds €50 million.
There are no local ownership requirements in France. However, French authorities may object to foreign investments in some specific sectors that are essential to guarantee France’s interests in relation to public policy, public security and national defence. As of today’s date, fashion and luxury are not part of these sectors that are protected for national security purposes.
In addition to prior agreements, such as non-disclosure agreements or promises, final agreements will set out the terms relating to the transaction; in particular, a description of the transferred assets, the price, the warranties granted by the seller, the conditions precedent, any non-competition or non-solicitation clauses. Asset purchase agreements must set out compulsory provisions, such as the name of the previous owner, some details about the annual turnover, otherwise the buyer may claim that the sale is invalid. Most of these agreements, and most sales of French targets and assets, are governed by French law; in particular, the legal transfer of ownership of the target’s shares or assets.
More specific to the fashion and luxury industries, any sale of a fashion business would entail transferring the ownership of all intellectual property rights tied into that fashion target. As such, the trade marks, which have sometimes been filed on the name of the founding fashion designer of the acquired fashion business (eg, Christian Dior, Chantal Thomass, John Galliano, Ines de la Fressange) would be owned by the buyer, after the sale. Thus, the founding fashion designer would no longer be able to use his or her name to sell fashion and luxury products, without infringing on the trade mark rights of the buyer.
26 | What competition law provisions are particularly relevant for the luxury and fashion industry?
Articles L 420-1 and L 420-2 of the French commercial code are the equivalent to articles 101-1 and 102 TFEU and provide for anticompetitive agreements and abuses of a dominant position, respectively.
Specific provisions of the French commercial code are also applicable, such as article L 410-1 et seq. on pricing, article L 430-1 et seq. on merger control, L 420-2-1 on exclusive rights in French overseas communities, L 420-5 on abusively low prices and L 442-1 et seq. on restrictive practices.
For example, a decision handed down by the Paris court of appeal on 26 January 2012 confirmed the existence of price fixing agreements, and anti competitive behaviour, between 13 perfume and cosmetics producers (including Chanel, Guerlain, Parfums Christian Dior and Yves Saint Laurent Beaute) and their three French distributors (Sephora, Nocibe France and Marionnaud). The court also upheld the judgment from the FCA, dated 14 March 2006, sentencing each of these luxury goods companies and distributors to fines valued at €40 million overall.
Court action for breach of competition law may be lodged with a French court of the FCA by any person having a legal interest. Class actions have been available since the entering into force of the Hamon law, but only when the action is filed by a limited number of authorised consumer associations.
There has been a rise in antitrust damage claims lodged in France, and French courts are now responsive to such claims. A section of the Paris commercial court has been set up to review summons lodged in English, with English-language exhibits, and can rule on competition cases with proceedings fully conducted in the English language.
As set out in question 4, while selective distribution is tolerated as an exemption, pursuant to article 101(3) TFEU, total restriction of online sales by a manufacturer, to its selective distributors, is a breach under article 101(1) TFEU (Pierre Fabre Dermo-Cosmétique SAS v Président de l’Autorité de la concurrence and Ministre de l’Économie, de l’Industrie et de l’Emploi, ECJ, 2011).
The ECJ has refined its case law (which, of course, applies to France) in its 2017 ruling in Coty Germany GmbH v Parfümerie Akzente GmbH. The ECJ ruled that a contractual clause, set out in the selective distribution agreement entered into between Coty and its selective distributors, and which prohibits members of such selective distribution network from selling Coty cosmetics on online marketplaces, such as Amazon, complies with article 101(1) TFEU. This is because, according to the ECJ, the clause is proportionate in its pursuit of preserving the image of Coty cosmetics and perfumes, and because it does not prohibit distributors from selling Coty products on their own online e-commerce sites, provided that some quality criteria are met.
This new ECJ case law is useful guidance for national courts on how to assess, in pragmatic terms, the prohibition of selling luxury products in marketplaces. Indeed, the Paris court of appeal handed down a judgment in relation to the validity of a similar clause set out in the contracts for Coty France on 28 February 2018, and used the ECJ analysis to confirm the validity of such prohibition, in relation to a marketplace that sold Coty perfumes during private sales.
9. Employment and labour
9.1. Managing employment relationships
27 | What employment law provisions should fashion companies be particularly aware of when managing relationships with employees? What are the usual contractual arrangements for these relationships?
Employer–employee relationships are governed by the following complex set of laws and regulations that leave little room for individual negotiation:
• the French labour code set out a comprehensive legal framework for both individual and collective relationships between employers and employees;
• collective bargaining agreements have been negotiated between employers’ associations and labour unions covering the industry as a whole, or between employers and labour unions covering a company. In the former case, the collective agreement usually applies to the industry sector as a whole, even to companies within that sector that are not part of the employers’ associations (for the fashion and luxury sectors, the ‟clothing industry collective agreement”, the ‘textile industry collective agreement (OETAM)’, or the ‟collective agreement for the footwear industries” may apply, for example); and
• individual employment agreements, which relate only to the aspects of the employer–employee relationship not already covered by the labour code or relevant collective bargaining agreement.
Because more than 90 per cent of French employees are protected by collective bargaining agreements, the rules set out in the French labour code are supplemented by more generous rules in areas such as paid leave, maternity leave, medical cover and even working time.
Under the ‟Aubry law” dated 19 January 2000, a standard 35-hour working week became the rule. Employees working beyond 35 hours are entitled to overtime. A company-wide collective bargaining agreement may provide for a maximum working time of 12 hours, and a maximum weekly working time of 46 hours over 12 consecutive weeks. Extra time is either paid via overtime, or compensating by taking extra days off (called ‟RTT”).
Any dismissal of a French employee must be notified in writing, and based on a ‘real and serious’ cause. A specific procedure must be followed, including inviting the employee to a pre-dismissal meeting, holding such meeting with the employee, and notifying the dismissal by registered letter with an acknowledgement of receipt. Dismissal for economic reasons and dismissals of employee representatives are subject to additional formalities and requirements, such as the implementation of selection criteria to identify the employees to be dismissed, the involvement of, and approval from, the French labour authorities and compulsory consultation with employee representatives. Upon termination, French employees are entitled to a number of indemnities (severance payment, notice period, paid holidays, etc) and, should the dismissal be deemed to be unfair, the ‟Macron scale”, set out in article L 1235-3 of the French labour code, provides that, in case of a court claim for unfair dismissal, French labour courts must allocate damages to former employees ranging between a minimum and a capped amount, based on the length of service with the former employer. Because many regional labour courts were resisting the application of the ‟Macron scale” to their court cases, the French supreme court ruled in July 2019 that such ‟Macron scale” is enforceable and must apply.
Of course, French freelancers and consultants who work for fashion and luxury houses are not protected by the above-mentioned French labour rules applying to employer–employee relationships. However, French labour courts are prompt at requalifying an alleged freelancing relationship into an employment relationship, provided that a subordination link (characterised by work done under the authority of an employer, which has the power to give orders, directives, guidelines, and to control the performance of such work, and may sanction any breach of such performance) exists, between the alleged freelancer and the fashion company. Most creative directors of French fashion houses are consultants, not employees, and therefore have the right to execute other fashion projects or contracts, for other fashion houses (for example, Karl Lagerfeld was the creative director of both Chanel and Fendi).
Article L 124-1 et seq of the French education code provide that a ‟gratification” (not a salary) may be paid to an intern, in France, if the duration of his or her internship is more than two consecutive months. Below that time frame, a French company has no obligation to pay a gratification to an intern. The hourly rate of such gratification is equal to a minimum of €3.90 per internship hour; however, in certain sectors of the industry where collective bargaining agreements apply, the amount may be higher than €3.90.
9.2. Trade unions
28 | Are there any special legal or regulatory considerations for fashion companies when dealing with trade unions or works councils?
As mentioned in question 24, an employer may have to consult employee representatives if it wants to dismiss, for economic reasons, some of its employees. Also, trade unions, either covering a company or a group of companies, or covering an industry as a whole, negotiate, and will renegotiate and amend, any collective bargaining agreements in place in France.
Unsurprisingly, employee representatives play a very important role, in French employer–employee relationships. Depending on the size of a company, some employee delegates or a works council, as well as a health and safety committee, may have to be appointed and set up. Such employee representatives not only have an important say on significant business issues such as large-scale dismissals, but must be consulted prior to a variety of changes in the business, such as acquisitions, or disposals, of business lines or of the company itself. In French companies with work councils, employee representatives are entitled to attend meetings of the board of directors, but are not allowed to take part in any votes at such meetings. As a result, most strategic decisions are made outside of board of directors’ meetings.
Dismissals of employee representatives are subject to additional formalities and requirements, such as the approval given by French labour authorities.
While the top creative management of French fashion houses may be terminated at will, because most creative directors are freelancers, the core labour force of most French fashion and luxury houses (eg, blue-collar workers on the shop floor (seamstresses etc), lower to middle management, etc) is almost immovable because of the above-mentioned strict French labour laws relating to hiring and firing. One advantage of such ‟job security” is that French students and the young labour force do not hesitate to train for, and take on, highly specialised and technical manual jobs, which are necessary to creative and exceptionally high-quality luxury products (eg, embroiderers working for Chanel-owned Lesage, bag makers working for Hermes, feather workers employed by Chanel-owned Lemarie and all the seamstresses working for Chanel and all the haute couture houses in Paris).
29 | Are there any special immigration law considerations for fashion companies seeking to move staff across borders or hire and retain talent?
Yes, the multi-year ‟passeport talent” residence permit was created to attract foreign employees and self-employed persons with a particular skillset (eg, qualified or highly qualified employee, self-employed professional, performer or author of a literary or artistic work) in France.
Such residence permit provides the right to stay for a maximum of four years in France, starting from the date of arrival in France. A multi-year residence permit may also be granted to the spouse and children of the ‟talented individual”.
10. Update and trends
30 | What are the current trends and future prospects for the luxury fashion industry in your jurisdiction? Have there been any notable recent market, legal and or regulatory developments in the sector? What changes in law, regulation, or enforcement should luxury and fashion companies be preparing for?
The future prospects of the luxury and fashion sectors in France are extremely high, because the Macron reforms are slowly but surely transforming the French economy into a liberalised and free-trade powerhouse, bringing flexibility and innovation at the forefront of the political reform agenda. However, the downside to these sweeping changes is the resistance, violence and riots that have taken place, and still regularly happen, in France, and in Paris in particular, emanating from a French people unsettled about, and scared of, a more free and competitive economic market.
Fashion and luxury businesses are the first to bear the brunt of these violent acts of resistance, as their retail points on the Champs Elysees and other luxurious locations in Paris and in the provinces have been heavily disrupted (and sometimes ransacked) by rioters, some ‟yellow vests” and ‟anti-pension reforms” social unrest movements.
However, in the medium to long term, fashion and luxury businesses will be among the first to benefit from those sweeping reforms, thanks to a highly productive, and more flexible, French workforce, better contractual and trade conditions to conduct business in France and abroad, and a highly efficient legal framework and court system that are among the most protective of IP rights owners, in the world.
Reproduced with permission from Law Business Research Ltd. This article was first published in Lexology Getting the Deal Through – Luxury & Fashion 2020 (Published: April 2020).
Why the valuation of intangible assets matters: the unstoppable rise of intangibles’ reporting in the 21st century’s corporate environmentCrefovi : 15/04/2020 8:00 am : Antitrust & competition, Art law, Articles, Banking & finance, Capital markets, Consumer goods & retail, Copyright litigation, Emerging companies, Entertainment & media, Fashion law, Gaming, Hospitality, Hostile takeovers, Information technology - hardware, software & services, Insolvency & workouts, Intellectual property & IP litigation, Internet & digital media, Law of luxury goods, Life sciences, Litigation & dispute resolution, Mergers & acquisitions, Music law, Outsourcing, Private equity & private equity finance, Restructuring, Tax, Technology transactions, Trademark litigation, Unsolicited bids
It is high time France and the UK up their game in terms of accounting for, reporting and leveraging the intangible assets owned by their national businesses and companies, while Asia and the US currently lead the race, here. European lenders need to do their bit, too, to empower creative and innovative SMEs, and provide them with adequate financing to sustain their growth and ambitions, by way of intangible assets backed-lending.
Back in May 2004, I published an in-depth study on the financing of luxury brands, and how the business model developed by large luxury conglomerates was coming out on top. 16 years down the line, I can testify that everything I said in that 2004 study was in the money: the LVMH, Kering, Richemont and L’Oreal of this word dominate the luxury and fashion sectors today, with their multibrands’ business model which allows them to both make vast economies of scale and diversify their economic as well as financial risks.
However, in the midst of the COVID 19 pandemic which constrains us all to work from home through virtual tools such as videoconferencing, emails, chats and sms, I came to realise that I omitted a very important topic from that 2004 study, which is however acutely relevant in the context of developing, and growing, creative businesses in the 21st century. It is that intangible assets are becoming the most important and valuable assets of creative companies (including, of course, luxury and fashion houses).
Indeed, traditionally, tangible and fixed assets, such as land, plants, stock, inventory and receivables were used to assess the intrinsic value of a company, and, in particular, were used as security in loan transactions. Today, most successful businesses out there, in particular in the technology sector (Airbnb, Uber, Facebook) but not only, derive the largest portion of their worth from their intangible assets, such as intellectual property rights (trademarks, patents, designs, copyright), brands, knowhow, reputation, customer loyalty, a trained workforce, contracts, licensing rights, franchises.
Our economy has changed in fundamental ways, as business is now mainly ‟knowledge based”, rather than industrial, and ‟intangibles” are the new drivers of economic activity, the Financial Reporting Council (‟FRC”) set out in its paper ‟Business reporting of intangibles: realistic proposals”, back in February 2019.
However, while such intangibles are becoming the driving force of our businesses and economies worldwide, they are consistently ignored by chartered accountants, bankers and financiers alike. As a result, most companies – in particular, Small and Medium Enterprises (‟SMEs”)- cannot secure any financing with money men because their intangibles are still deemed to … well, in a nutshell … lack physical substance! This limits the scope of growth of many creative businesses; to their detriment of course, but also to the detriment of the UK and French economies in which SMEs account for an astounding 99 percent of private sector business, 59 percent of private sector employment and 48 percent of private sector turnover.
How could this oversight happen and materialise, in the last 20 years? Where did it all go wrong? Why do we need to very swiftly address this lack of visionary thinking, in terms of pragmatically adapting double-entry book keeping and accounting rules to the realities of companies operating in the 21st century?
How could such adjustments in, and updates to, our old ways of thinking about the worth of our businesses, be best implemented, in order to balance the need for realistic valuations of companies operating in the “knowledge economy” and the concern expressed by some stakeholders that intangible assets might peter out at the first reputation blow dealt to any business?
1. What is the valuation and reporting of intangible assets?
1.1. Recognition and measurement of intangible assets within accounting and reporting
In the European Union (‟EU”), there are two levels of accounting regulation:
- the international level, which corresponds to the International Accounting Standards (‟IAS”), and International Financial Reporting Standards (‟IFRS”) issued by the International Accounting Standards Board (‟IASB”), which apply compulsorily to the consolidated financial statements of listed companies and voluntarily to other accounts and entities according to the choices of each country legislator, and
- a national level, where the local regulations are driven by the EU accounting directives, which have been issued from 1978 onwards, and which apply to the remaining accounts and companies in each EU member-state.
The first international standard on recognition and measurement of intangible assets was International Accounting Standard 38 (‟IAS 38”), which was first issued in 1998. Even though it has been amended several times since, there has not been any significant change in its conservative approach to recognition and measurement of intangible assets.
An asset is a resource that is controlled by a company as a result of past events (for example a purchase or self-creation) and from which future economic benefits (such as inflows of cash or other assets) are expected to flow to this company. An intangible asset is defined by IAS 38 as an identifiable non-monetary asset without physical substance.
There is a specific reference to intellectual property rights (‟IPRs”), in the definition of ‟intangible assets” set out in paragraph 9 of IAS 38, as follows: ‟entities frequently expend resources, or incur liabilities, on the acquisition, development, maintenance or enhancement of intangible resources such as scientific or technical knowledge, design and implementation of new processes or systems, licenses, intellectual property, market knowledge and trademarks (including brand names and publishing titles). Common examples of items encompassed by these broad headings are computer software, patents, copyrights, motion picture films, customer lists, mortgage servicing rights, fishing licences, import quotas, franchises, customer or supplier relationships, customer loyalty, market share and marketing rights”.
However, it is later clarified in IAS 38, that in order to recognise an intangible asset on the face of balance sheet, it must be identifiable and controlled, as well as generate future economic benefits flowing to the company that owns it.
The recognition criterion of ‟identifiability” is described in paragraph 12 of IAS 38 as follows.
‟An asset is identifiable if it either:
a. is separable, i.e. capable of being separated or divided from the entity and sold, transferred, licensed, rented or exchanged, either individually or together with a related contract, identifiable asset or liability, regardless of whether the entity intends to do so; or
b. arises from contractual or other legal rights, regardless of whether those rights are transferable or separable from the entity or from other rights and obligations”.
‟Control” is an essential feature in accounting and is described in paragraph 13 of IAS 38.
‟An entity controls an asset if the entity has the power to obtain the future economic benefits flowing from the underlying resource and to restrict the access of others to those benefits. The capacity of an entity to control the future economic benefits from an intangible asset would normally stem from legal rights that are enforceable in a court of law. In the absence of legal rights, it is more difficult to demonstrate control. However, legal enforceability of a right is not a necessary condition for control because an entity may be able to control the future economic benefits in some other way”.
In order to have an intangible asset recognised as an asset on company balance sheet, such intangible has to satisfy also some specific accounting recognition criteria, which are set out in paragraph 21 of IAS 38.
‟An intangible asset shall be recognised if, and only if:
a. it is probable that the expected future economic benefits that are attributable to the asset will flow to the entity; and
b. the cost of the asset can be measured reliably”.
The recognition criteria illustrated above are deemed to be always satisfied when an intangible asset is acquired by a company from an external party at a price. Therefore, there are no particular problems to record an acquired intangible asset on the balance sheet of the acquiring company, at the consideration paid (i.e. historical cost).
1.2. Goodwill v. other intangible assets
Here, before we develop any further, we must draw a distinction between goodwill and other intangible assets, for clarification purposes.
Goodwill is an intangible asset that is associated with the purchase of one company by another. Specifically, goodwill is the portion of the purchase price that is higher than the sum of the net fair value of all of the assets purchased in the acquisition and the liabilities assumed in the process (= purchase price of the acquired company – (net fair market value of identifiable assets – net fair value of identifiable liabilities)).
The value of a company’s brand name, solid customer base, good customer relations, good employee relations, as well as proprietary technology, represent some examples of goodwill, in this context.
The value of goodwill arises in an acquisition, i.e. when an acquirer purchases a target company. Goodwill is then recorded as an intangible asset on the acquiring company’s balance sheet under the long-term assets’ account.
Under Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (‟GAAP”) and IFRS, these companies which acquired targets in the past and therefore recorded those targets’ goodwill on their balance sheet, are then required to evaluate the value of goodwill on their financial statements at least once a year, and record any impairments.
Impairment of an asset occurs when its market value drops below historical cost, due to adverse events such as declining cash flows, a reputation backlash, increased competitive environment, etc. Companies assess whether an impairment is needed by performing an impairment test on the intangible asset. If the company’s acquired net assets fall below the book value, or if the company overstated the amount of goodwill, then it must impair or do a write-down on the value of the asset on the balance sheet, after it has assessed that the goodwill is impaired. The impairment expense is calculated as the difference between the current market value and the purchase price of the intangible asset. The impairment results in a decrease in the goodwill account on the balance sheet.
This expense is also recognised as a loss on the income statement, which directly reduces net income for the year. In turn, earnings per share (‟EPS”) and the company’s stock price are also negatively affected.
The Financial Accounting Standards Board (‟FASB”), which sets standards for GAAP rules, and the IASB, which sets standards for IFRS rules, are considering a change to how goodwill impairment is calculated. Because of the subjectivity of goodwill impairment, and the cost of testing impairment, FASB and IASB are considering reverting to an older method called ‟goodwill amortisation” in which the value of goodwill is slowly reduced annually over a number of years.
As set out above, goodwill is not the same as other intangible assets because it is a premium paid over fair value during a transaction, and cannot be bought or sold independently. Meanwhile, other intangible assets can be bought and sold independently.
Also, goodwill has an indefinite life, while other intangibles have a definite useful life (i.e. an accounting estimate of the number of years an asset is likely to remain in service for the purpose of cost-effective revenue generation).
1.3. Amortisation, impairment and subsequent measure of intangible assets other than goodwill
That distinction between goodwill and other intangible assets being clearly drawn, let’s get back to the issues revolving around recording intangible assets (other than goodwill) on the balance sheet of a company.
As set out above, if some intangible assets are acquired as a consequence of a business purchase or combination, the acquiring company recognises all these intangible assets, provided that they meet the definition of an intangible asset. This results in the recognition of intangibles – including brand names, IPRs, customer relationships – that would not have been recognised by the acquired company that developed them in the first place. Indeed, paragraph 34 of IAS 38 provides that ‟in accordance with this Standard and IFRS 3 (as revised in 2008), an acquirer recognises at the acquisition date, separately from goodwill, an intangible asset of the acquiree, irrespective of whether the asset had been recognised by the acquiree before the business combination. This means that the acquirer recognises as an asset separately from goodwill an in-process research and development project of the acquiree, if the project meets the definition of an intangible asset. An acquiree’s in-process research and development project meets the definition of an intangible asset when it:
a. meets the definition of an asset, and
b. is identifiable, i.e. separable or arises from contractual or other legal rights.”
Therefore, in a business acquisition or combination, the intangible assets that are ‟identifiable” (either separable or arising from legal rights) can be recognised and capitalised in the balance sheet of the acquiring company.
After initial recognition, the accounting value in the balance sheet of intangible assets with definite useful lives (e.g. IPRs, licenses) has to be amortised over the intangible asset’s expected useful life, and is subject to impairment tests when needed. As explained above, intangible assets with indefinite useful lives (such as goodwill or brands) will not be amortised, but only subject at least annually to an impairment test to verify whether the impairment indicators (‟triggers”) are met.
Alternatively, after initial recognition (at cost or at fair value in the case of business acquisitions or mergers), intangible assets with definite useful lives may be revalued at fair value less amortisation, provided there is an active market for the asset to be referred to, as can be inferred from paragraph 75 of IAS 38:
‟After initial recognition, an intangible asset shall be carried at a revalued amount, being its fair value at the date of the revaluation less any subsequent accumulated amortisation and any subsequent accumulated impairment losses. For the purpose of revaluations under this Standard, fair value shall be measured by reference to an active market. Revaluations shall be made with such regularity that at the end of the reporting period the carrying amount of the asset does not differ materially from its fair value.”
However, this standard indicates that the revaluation model can only be used in rare situations, where there is an active market for these intangible assets.
1.4. The elephant in the room: a lack of recognition and measurement of internally generated intangible assets
All the above about the treatment of intangible assets other than goodwill cannot be said for internally generated intangible assets. Indeed, IAS 38 sets out important differences in the treatment of those internally generated intangibles, which is currently – and rightfully – the subject of much debate among regulators and other stakeholders.
Internally generated intangible assets are prevented from being recognised, from an accounting standpoint, as they are being developed (while a business would normally account for internally generated tangible assets). Therefore, a significant proportion of internally generated intangible assets is not recognised in the balance sheet of a company. As a consequence, stakeholders such as investors, regulators, shareholders, financiers, are not receiving some very relevant information about this enterprise, and its accurate worth.
Why such a standoffish attitude towards internally generated intangible assets? In practice, when the expenditure to develop intangible asset is incurred, it is often very unclear whether that expenditure is going to generate future economic benefits. It is this uncertainty that prevents many intangible assets from being recognised as they are being developed. This perceived lack of reliability of the linkage between expenditures and future benefits pushes towards the treatment of such expenditures as ‟period cost”. It is not until much later, when the uncertainty is resolved (e.g. granting of a patent), that an intangible asset may be capable of recognition. As current accounting requirements primarily focus on transactions, an event such as the resolution of uncertainty surrounding an internally developed IPR is generally not captured in company financial statements.
Let’s take the example of research and development costs (‟R&D”), which is one process of internally creating certain types of intangible assets, to illustrate the accounting treatment of intangible assets created in this way.
Among accounting standard setters, such as IASB with its IAS 38, the most frequent practice is to require the immediate expensing of all R&D. However, France, Italy and Australia are examples of countries where national accounting rule makers allow the capitalisation of R&D, subject to conditions being satisfied.
Therefore, in some circumstances, internally generated intangible assets can be recognised when the relevant set of recognition criteria is met, in particular the existence of a clear linkage of the expenditure to future benefits accruing to the company. This is called condition-based capitalisation. In these cases, the cost that a company has incurred in that financial year, can be capitalised as an asset; the previous costs having already been expensed in earlier income statements. For example, when a patent is finally granted by the relevant intellectual property office, only the expenses incurred during that financial year can be capitalised and disclosed on the face of balance sheet among intangible fixed assets.
To conclude, under the current IFRS and GAAP regimes, internally generated intangible assets, such as IPRs, can only be recognised on balance sheet in very rare instances.
2.Why value and report intangible assets?
As developed in depth by the European Commission (‟EC”) in its 2013 final report from the expert group on intellectual property valuation, the UK intellectual property office (‟UKIPO”) in its 2013 ‟Banking on IP?” report and the FRC in its 2019 discussion paper ‟Business reporting of intangibles: realistic proposals”, the time for radical change to the accounting of intangible assets has come upon us.
2.1. Improving the accurateness and reliability of financial communication
Existing accounting standards should be advanced, updated and modernised to take greater account of intangible assets and consequently improve the relevance, objectivity and reliability of financial statements.
Not only that, but informing stakeholders (i.e. management, employees, shareholders, regulators, financiers, investors) appropriately and reliably is paramount today, in a corporate world where companies are expected to accurately, regularly and expertly manage and broadcast their financial communication to medias and regulators.
As highlighted by Janice Denoncourt in her blog post ‟intellectual property, finance and corporate governance”, no stakeholder wants an iteration of the Theranos’ fiasco, during which inventor and managing director Elizabeth Holmes was indicted for fraud in excess of USD700 million, by the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (‟SEC”), for having repeatedly, yet inaccurately, said that Theranos’ patented blood testing technology was both revolutionary and at the last stages of its development. Elizabeth Holmes made those assertions on the basis of the more than 270 patents that her and her team filed with the United States patent and trademark office (‟USPTO”), while making some material omissions and misleading disclosures to the SEC, via Theranos’ financial statements, on the lame justification that ‟Theranos needed to protect its intellectual property” (sic).
Indeed, the stakes of financial communication are so high, in particular for the branding and reputation of any ‟knowledge economy” company, that, back in 2002, LVMH did not hesitate to sue Morgan Stanley, the investment bank advising its nemesis, Kering (at the time, named ‟PPR”), in order to obtain Euros100 million of damages resulting from Morgan Stanley’s alleged breach of conflicts of interests between its investment banking arm (which advised PPR’s top-selling brand, Gucci) and Morgan Stanley’s financial research division. According to LVMH, Clare Kent, Morgan Stanley’s luxury sector-focused analyst, systematically drafted and then published negative and biased research against LVMH share and financial results, in order to favor Gucci, the top-selling brand of the PPR luxury conglomerate and Morgan Stanley’s top client. While this lawsuit – the first of its kind in relation to alleged biased conduct in a bank’s financial analysis – looked far-fetched when it was lodged in 2002, LVMH actually won, both in first instance and on appeal.
Having more streamlined and accurate accounting, reporting and valuation of intangible assets – which are, today, the main and most valuable assets of any 21st century corporation – is therefore paramount for efficient and reliable financial communication.
2.2. Improving and diversifying access to finance
Not only that, but recognising the worth and inherent value of intangible assets, on balance sheet, would greatly improve the chances of any company – in particular, SMEs – to successfully apply for financing.
Debt finance is notoriously famous for shying away from using intangible assets as main collateral against lending because it is too risky.
For example, taking appropriate security controls over a company’s registered IPRs in a lending scenario would involve taking a fixed charge, and recording it properly on the Companies Registry at Companies House (in the UK) and on the appropriate IPRs’ registers. However, this hardly ever happens. Typically, at best, lenders are reliant on a floating charge over IPRs, which will crystallise in case of an event of default being triggered – by which time, important IPRs may have disappeared into thin air, or been disposed of; hence limiting the lender’s recovery prospects.
Alternatively, it is now possible for a lender to take an assignment of an IPR by way of security (generally with a licence back to the assignor to permit his or her continued use of the IPR) by an assignment in writing signed by the assignor. However, this is rarely done in practice. The reason is to avoid ‟maintenance”, i.e. to prevent the multiplicity of actions. Indeed, because intangibles are incapable of being possessed, and rights over them are therefore ultimately enforced by action, it has been considered that the ability to assign such rights would increase the number of actions.
Whilst there are improvements needed to the practicalities and easiness of registering a security interest over intangible assets, the basic step that is missing is a clear inventory of IPRs and other intangible assets, on balance sheet and/or on yearly financial statements, without which lenders can never be certain that these assets are in fact to hand.
Cases of intangible asset- backed lending (‟IABL”) have occurred, whereby a bank provided a loan to a pension fund against tangible assets, and the pension fund then provided a sale and leaseback arrangement against intangible assets. Therefore, IABL from pension funds (on a sale and leaseback arrangement), rather than banks, provides a route for SMEs to obtain loans.
There have also been instances where specialist lenders have entered into sale and licence-back agreements, or sale and leaseback agreements, secured against intangible assets, including trademarks and software copyright.
Some other types of funders than lenders, however, are already making the ‟intangible assets” link, such as equity investors (business angels, venture capital companies and private equity funds). They know that IPRs and other intangibles represent part of the ‟skin in the game” for SMEs owners and managers, who have often expended significant time and money in their creation, development and protection. Therefore, when equity investors assess the quality and attractiveness of investment opportunities, they invariably include consideration of the underlying intangible assets, and IPRs in particular. They want to understand the extent to which intangible assets owned by one of the companies they are potentially interested investing in, represent a barrier to entry, create freedom to operate and meet a real market need.
Accordingly, many private equity funds, in particular, have delved into investing in luxury companies, attracted by their high gross margins and net profit rates, as I explained in my 2013 article ‟Financing luxury companies: the quest of the Holy Grail (not!)”. Today, some of the most active venture capital firms investing in the European creative industries are Accel, Advent Venture Partners, Index Ventures, Experienced Capital, to name a few.
2.3. Adopting a systematic, consistent and streamlined approach to the valuation of intangible assets, which levels the playing field
If intangible assets are to be recognised in financial statements, in order to adopt a systematic and streamlined approach to their valuation, then fair value is the most obvious alternative to cost, as explained in paragraph 1.3. above.
How could we use fair value more widely, in order to capitalise intangible assets in financial statements?
IFRS 13 ‟Fair Value Measurements” identifies three widely-used valuation techniques: the market approach, the cost approach and the income approach.
The market approach ‟uses prices and other relevant information generated by market transactions involving identical or comparable” assets. However, this approach is difficult in practice, since when transactions in intangibles occur, the prices are rarely made public. Publicly traded data usually represents a market capitalisation of the enterprise, not singular intangible assets. Market data from market participants is often used in income based models such as determining reasonable royalty rates and discount rates. Direct market evidence is usually available in the valuation of internet domain names, carbon emission rights and national licences (for radio stations, for example). Other relevant market data include sale/licence transactional data, price multiples and royalty rates.
The cost approach ‟reflects the amount that would be required currently to replace the service capacity of an asset”. Deriving fair value under this approach therefore requires estimating the costs of developing an equivalent intangible asset. In practice, it is often difficult to estimate in advance the costs of developing an intangible. In most cases, replacement cost new is the most direct and meaningful cost based means of estimating the value of an intangible asset. Once replacement cost new is estimated, various forms of obsolescence must be considered, such as functional, technological and economic. Cost based models are best used for valuing an assembled workforce, engineering drawings or designs and internally developed software where no direct cash flow is generated.
The income approach essentially converts future cash flows (or income and expenses) to a single, discounted present value, usually as a result of increased turnover of cost savings. Income based models are best used when the intangible asset is income producing or when it allows an asset to generate cash flow. The calculation may be similar to that of value in use. However, to arrive at fair value, the future income must be estimated from the perspective of market participants rather than that of the entity. Therefore, applying the income approach requires an insight into how market participants would assess the benefits (cash flows) that will be obtained uniquely from an intangible asset (where such cash flows are different from the cash flows related to the whole company). Income based methods are usually employed to value customer related intangibles, trade names, patents, technology, copyrights, and covenants not to compete.
An example of IPRs’ valuation by way of fair value, using the cost and income approaches in particular, is given in the excellent presentation by Austin Jacobs, made during ialci’s latest law of luxury goods and fashion seminar on intellectual property rights in the fashion and luxury sectors.
In order to make these three above-mentioned valuation techniques more effective, with regards to intangible assets, and because many intangibles will not be recognised in financial statements as they fail to meet the definition of an asset or the recognition criteria, a reconsideration to the ‟Conceptual Framework to Financial Reporting” needs being implemented by the IASB.
These amendments to the Conceptual Framework would permit more intangibles to be recognised within financial statements, in a systematic, consistent, uniform and streamlined manner, therefore levelling the playing field among companies from the knowledge economy.
Let’s not forget that one of the reasons WeWork co founder, Adam Neumann, was violently criticised, during WeWork’s failed IPO attempt, and then finally ousted, in 2019, was the fact that he was paid nearly USD6 million for granting the right to use his registered word trademark ‟We”, to his own company WeWork. In its IPO filing prospectus, which provided the first in-depth look at WeWork’s financial results, WeWork characterised the nearly USD6 million payment as ‟fair market value”. Many analysts, among which Scott Galloway, begged to differ, outraged by the lack of rigour and realism in the valuation of the WeWork brand, and the clearly opportunistic attitude adopted by Adam Neumann to get even richer, faster.
2.4. Creating a liquid, established and free secondary market of intangible assets
IAS 38 currently permits intangible assets to be recognised at fair value, as discussed above in paragraphs 1.3. and 2.3., measured by reference to an active market.
While acknowledging that such markets may exist for assets such as ‟freely transferable taxi licences, fishing licences or production quotas”, IAS 38 states that ‟it is uncommon for an active market to exist for an intangible asset”. It is even set out, in paragraph 78 of IAS 38 that ‟an active market cannot exist for brands, newspaper mastheads, music and film publishing rights, patents or trademarks, because each such asset is unique”.
Markets for resale of intangible assets and IPRs do exist, but are presently less formalised and offer less certainty on realisable values. There is no firmly established secondary transaction market for intangible assets (even though some assets are being sold out of insolvency) where value can be realised. In addition, in the case of forced liquidation, intangible assets’ value can be eroded, as highlighted in paragraph 2.2. above.
Therefore, markets for intangible assets are currently imperfect, in particular because there is an absence of mature marketplaces in which intangible assets may be sold in the event of default, insolvency or liquidation. There is not yet the same tradition of disposal, or the same volume of transaction data, as that which has historically existed with tangible fixed assets.
Be that as it may, the rise of liquid secondary markets of intangible assets is unstoppable. In the last 15 years, the USA have been at the forefront of IPRs auctions, mainly with patent auctions managed by specialist auctioneers such as ICAP Ocean Tomo and Racebrook. For example, in 2006, ICAP Ocean Tomo sold 78 patent lots at auction for USD8.5 million, while 6,000 patents were sold at auction by Canadian company Nortel Networks for USD4.5 billion in 2011.
However, auctions are not limited to patents, as demonstrated by the New York auction, successfully organised by ICAP Ocean Tomo in 2006, on lots composed of patents, trademarks, copyrights, musical rights and domain names, where the sellers were IBM, Motorola, Siemens AG, Kimberly Clark, etc. In 2010, Racebrook auctioned 150 American famous brands from the retail and consumer goods’ sectors.
In Europe, in 2012, Vogica successfully sold its trademarks and domain names at auction to competitor Parisot Group, upon its liquidation.
In addition, global licensing activity leaves not doubt that intangible assets, in particular IPRs, are, in fact, very valuable, highly tradable and a very portable asset class.
It is high time to remove all market’s imperfections, make trading more transparent and offer options to the demand side, to get properly tested.
3. Next steps to improve the valuation and reporting of intangible assets
3.1. Adjust IAS 38 and the Conceptual Framework to Financial Reporting to the realities of intangible assets’ reporting
Mainstream lenders, as well as other stakeholders, need cost-effective, standardised approaches in order to capture and process information on intangibles and IPRs (which is not currently being presented by SMEs).
This can be achieved by reforming IAS 38 and the ‟Conceptual Framework to Financial Reporting”, at the earliest convenience, in order to make most intangible assets capitalised on financial statements at realistic and consistent valuations.
In particular, the reintroduction of amortisation of goodwill may be a pragmatic way to reduce the impact of different accounting treatment for acquired and internally generated intangibles.
In addition, narrative reporting (i.e. reports with titles such as ‟Management Commentary” or ‟Strategic Report”, which generally form part of the annual report, and other financial communication documents such as ‟Preliminary Earnings Announcements” that a company provides primarily for the information of investors) must set out detailed information on unrecognised intangibles, as well as amplify what is reported within the financial statements.
3.2. Use standardised and consistent metrics within financial statements and other financial communication documents
The usefulness and credibility of narrative information would be greatly enhanced by the inclusion of metrics (i.e. numerical measures that are relevant to an assessment of the company’s intangibles) standardised by industry. The following are examples of objective and verifiable metrics that may be disclosed through narrative reporting:
- a company that identifies customer loyalty as critical to the success of its business model might disclose measures of customer satisfaction, such as the percentage of customers that make repeat purchases;
- if the ability to innovate is a key competitive advantage, the proportion of sales from new products may be a relevant metric;
- where the skill of employees is a key driver of value, employee turnover may be disclosed, together with information about their training.
3.3. Make companies’ boards accountable for intangibles’ reporting
Within a company, at least one appropriately qualified person should be appointed and publicly reported as having oversight and responsibility for intangibles’ auditing, valuation, due diligence and reporting (for example a director, specialist advisory board or an external professional adviser).
This would enhance the importance of corporate governance and board oversight, in addition to reporting, with respect to intangible assets.
In particular, some impairment tests could be introduced, to ensure that businesses are well informed and motivated to adopt appropriate intangibles’ management practices, which should be overseen by the above-mentioned appointed board member.
3.4. Create a body that trains about, and regulates, the field of intangible assets’ valuation and reporting
The creation of a professional organisation for the intangible assets’ valuation profession would increase transparency of intangibles’ valuations and trust towards valuation professionals (i.e. lawyers, IP attorneys, accountants, economists, etc).
This valuation professional organisation would set some key objectives that will protect the public interest in all matters that pertain to the profession, establish professional standards (especially standards of professional conduct) and represent professional valuers.
This organisation would, in addition, offer training and education on intangibles’ valuations. Therefore, the creation of informative material and the development of intangible assets’ training programmes would be a priority, and would guarantee the high quality valuation of IPRs and other intangibles as a way of boosting confidence for the field.
Company board members who are going to be appointed as having accountability and responsibility for intangibles’ valuation within the business, as mentioned above in paragraph 3.3., could greatly benefit from regular training sessions offered by this future valuation professional organisation, in particular for continuing professional development purposes.
3.5. Create a powerful register of expert intangible assets’ valuers
In order to build trust, the creation of a register of expert intangibles’ valuers, whose ability must first be certified by passing relevant knowledge tests, is key.
Inclusion on this list would involve having to pass certain aptitudes tests and, to remain on it, valuers would have to maintain a standard of quality in the valuations carried out, whereby the body that manages this registry would be authorised to expel members whose reports are not up to standard. This is essential in order to maintain confidence in the quality and skill of the valuers included on the register.
The entity that manages this body of valuers would have the power to review the valuations conducted by the valuers certified by this institution as a ‟second instance”. The body would need to have the power to re-examine the assessments made by these valuers (inspection programme), and even eliminate them if it is considered that the assessment is overtly incorrect (fair disciplinary mechanism).
3.6. Establish an intangible assets’ marketplace and data-source
The development most likely to transform IPRs and intangibles as an asset class is the emergence of more transparent and accessible marketplaces where they can be traded.
In particular, as IPRs and intangible assets become clearly identified and are more freely licensed, bought and sold (together with or separate to the business), the systems available to register and track financial interests will need to be improved. This will require the cooperation of official registries and the establishment of administrative protocols.
Indeed, the credibility of intangibles’ valuations would be greatly enhanced by improving valuation information, especially by collecting information and data on actual and real intangibles’ transactions in a suitable form, so that it can be used, for example, to support IPRs asset-based lending decisions. If this information is made available, lenders and expert valuers will be able to base their estimates on more widely accepted and verified assumptions, and consequently, their valuation results – and valuation reports – would gain greater acceptance and reliability from the market at large.
The wide accessibility of complete, quality information which is based on real negotiations and transactions, via this open data-source, would help to boost confidence in the validity and accuracy of valuations, which will have a very positive effect on transactions involving IPRs and other intangibles.
3.7. Introduce a risk sharing loan guarantee scheme for banks to facilitate intangibles’ secured lending
A dedicated loan guarantee scheme needs being introduced, to facilitate intangible assets’ secured lending to innovative and creative SMEs.
Asia is currently setting the pace in intangibles-backed lending. In 2014, the intellectual property office of Singapore (‟IPOS”) launched a USD100 million ‟IP financing scheme” designed to support local SMEs to use their granted IPRs as collateral for bank loans. A panel of IPOS-appointed valuers assess the applicant’s IPR portfolio using standard guidelines to provide lenders with a basis on which to determine the amount of funds to be advanced. The development of a national valuation model is a noteworthy aspect of the scheme and could lead to an accepted valuation methodology in the future.
The Chinese intellectual property office (‟CIPO”) has developed some patent-backed debt finance initiatives. Only 6 years after the ‟IP pledge financing” programme was launched by CIPO in 2008, CIPO reported that Chinese companies had secured over GBP6 billion in IPRs-backed loans since the programme launched. The Chinese government having way more direct control and input into commercial bank lending policy and capital adequacy requirements, it can vigorously and potently implement its strategic goal of increasing IPRs-backed lending.
It is high time Europe follows suit, at least by putting in place some loan guarantees that would increase lender’s confidence in making investments by sharing the risks related to the investment. A guarantor assumes a debt obligation if the borrower defaults. Most loan guarantee schemes are established to correct perceived market failures by which small borrowers, regardless of creditworthiness, lack access to the credit resources available to large borrowers. Loan guarantee schemes level the playing field.
The proposed risk sharing loan guarantee scheme set up by the European Commission or by a national government fund (in particular in the UK, who is brexiting) would be specifically targeted at commercial banks in order to stimulate intangibles-secured lending to innovative SMEs. The guarantor would fully guarantee the intangibles-secured loan and share the risk of lending to SMEs (which have suitable IPRs and intangibles) with the commercial bank.
The professional valuer serves an important purpose, in this future loan guarantee scheme, since he or she will fill the knowledge gap relating to the IPRs and intangibles, as well as their value, in the bank’s loan procedure. If required, the expert intangibles’ valuer provides intangibles’ valuation expertise and technology transfer to the bank, until such bank has built the relevant capacity to perform intangible assets’ valuations. Such valuations would be performed, either by valuers and/or banks, according to agreed, consistent, homogenised and accepted methods/standards and a standardised intangible asset’s valuation methodology.
To conclude, in this era of ultra-competitiveness and hyper-globalisation, France and the UK, and Europe in general, must immediately jump on the saddle of progress, by reforming outdated and obsolete accounting and reporting standards, as well as by implementing all the above-mentioned new measures and strategies, to realistically and consistently value, report and leverage intangible assets in the 21st century economy.
 ‟Lingard’s bank security documents”, Timothy N. Parsons, 4th edition, LexisNexis, page 450 and seq.
 ‟Taking security – law and practice”, Richard Calnan, Jordans, page 74 and seq.
On 30 March 2019, the UK will crash out of the EU without a withdrawal deal in place, and without a request for an extension of the 2 years’ notification period of its decision to withdraw. No second referendum will be organised by the current UK government. Therefore, what’s in the cards, for the creative industries, in order to do fruitful business with, and from, the UK in the near future?
My previous article on the road less travelled & Brexit legal implications, published just after the Brexit vote, on Saturday 25 June 2016, delivered the main message that it was worth monitoring the negotiation process that would ensue the notification made by the United Kingdom (‟UK”) to the European Union (‟EU”) of its intention to withdraw from the EU within 2 years.
We have therefore been monitoring those negotiations for you, in the last couple of years, and came to the following predictions, which will empower your creative business to brace itself for, and make the most of the imminent changes triggered by, the crashing of the UK out of the EU, on 30 March 2019.
1. End of freedom of movement of UK and EU citizens coming in and out of the UK
On 30 March 2019, UK citizens will lose their EU citizenship, i.e. the citizenship, subsidiary to UK citizenship, that provide rights such as the right to vote in European elections, the right to free movement, settlement and employment across the EU, and the right to consular protection by other EU states’ embassies when a person’s country of citizenship does not maintain an embassy or consulate in the country in which they require protection.
Since no withdrawal agreement will be signed by 29 March 2019, between the EU and the UK, UK nationals living in one of the 27 EU member-states will be on their own, as no reciprocal arrangements will have been put in place, in particular in relation to reciprocal healthcare and social security coordination, work permits, right to stand and vote in local elections.
UK nationals living in one of the states which are members of the European Free Trade Association (‟EFTA”), i.e. Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, will also have no safety net, as the UK will also crash out of the EU bilateral agreements with EFTA members, such as the agreement on the European Economic Area (‟EEA”) which ties Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and the EU together, on 29 March 2019. Meanwhile, ‟the UK is seeking citizens’ rights agreement with the EFTA states to protect the rights of citizens”, as set out on the policy paper published by the UK Department for exiting the EU.
It therefore makes sense for UK nationals living in a EU member-state, or in one of the EFTA states, to reach out to the equivalent of the UK Home Office in such country, and inquire how they can secure either a visa or national citizenship in this country. Since negotiating some new bilateral agreements with EU member-states and EFTA states will take years, for the UK to finalise such negotiations, UK nationals cannot rely on these protracted talks to get any leverage and obtain permanent right to remain in a EU member-state or an EFTA state.
For example, France is ready to pass a decree after 30 March 2019, to organise the requirement to present a visa to enter French territory, and to obtain a residency permit (‟carte de séjour”) to justify staying here, for UK citizens already living, or planning to live for more than three months, in France. Therefore, soon after 30 March 2019, British nationals and their families who do not have residency permits may have an “irregular status” in France.
While applying for a ‟carte de séjour” is free in France, and applying for French citizenship triggers only a 55 euros stamp duty to pay, EU nationals living in the UK, or planning to live in the UK, won’t be so lucky.
Indeed, it will set EU nationals back GBP1,330 per person, from 6 April 2018, to obtain UK citizenship, including the citizenship ceremony fee. However, there may be no fee to enrol into the EU Settlement Scheme, which will open fully by 30 March 2019, in particular if a EU citizen already has a valid ‟UK permanent residence document or indefinite leave to remain in or enter the UK”. The deadline for applying in the EU Settlement Scheme will be 31 December 2020, when the UK leaves the EU without a withdrawal deal on 30 March 2019.
Business owners and creative companies working in and from the UK will be impacted too, if they have some employees and staff. It will be their responsibility to ensure and be able to prove that their staff who are EU citizens, have all obtained a settled status: in a display of largesse, the UK government has therefore published an employer toolkit, to ‟support EU citizens and their families to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme”.
For short term stays of less than three months per entry, the UK government currently promises that ‟arrangements for tourists and business visitors will not look any different. EU citizens coming for short visits will be able to enter the UK as they can now, and stay for up to three months from each entry”.
To conclude, leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement is going to create a lot of red tape, and be a massive time and energy hassle for EU citizens living in the UK, their UK employers who need to ensure that their staff are all enrolled into the EU Settlement Scheme, and for UK citizens living in one of the remaining 27 EU member-states. There will be no certainty of obtaining settled status from the UK Home Office, until EU citizens have actually obtained it further to enrolling into the EU Settlement Scheme. This is going to be a very anxiety-inducing process for EU citizens living in the UK, and for their UK employers who rely on these members of their staff to get the job done.
Contingency plans should therefore be put in place by UK employers who have EU citizens on their payroll, in particular by setting up offices and subsidiaries in one of the remaining 27 EU member-states, so that EU citizens whose settled status was refused by the UK Home Office may keep on working for their UK employers by relocating to this EU member-state where they will have freedom of movement thanks to their EU citizenships. Besides the Home Office and immigration lawyers’ fees, UK employers need to take into account the legal, accounting, IT and real estate costs of setting up additional offices and subsidiaries in a EU member-state, after 30 March 2019.
2. Removal of free movement of goods, services and capital
The EU internal market, or single market, is a single market that seeks to guarantee the free movement of goods, capital, services and people – the ‟four freedoms” – between the EU 28 member-states.
After 30 March 2019, the single market will no longer count the UK, as it will cease to be a EU member-state.
While it was an option for the internal market to remain in place, between the UK and the EU, as such market has been extended to EFTA states Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway through the EEA agreement, and to EFTA state Switzerland through bilateral treaties, this alternative was not pursued by the UK government. Indeed, the EEA Agreement and EU-Swiss bilateral agreements are both viewed by most as very asymmetric (Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein are essentially obliged to accept the internal single market rules without having much if any say in what they are, while Switzerland does not have full or automatic access but still has free movement of workers). The UK, as well as EFTA members who were less than keen to have the UK join their EFTA club, ruled out such option, not seeing the point of still contributing to the EU budget while not having a seat at the table to take any decisions in relation to how the single market is governed and managed.
2.1. Removal of free movement of goods and new custom duties and tariffs
As far as the removal of the free movement of goods is concerned, it will be a – hopefully temporary – hassle, since the UK does not have any bilateral customs and trade agreements in place with the EU (because no withdrawal agreement will be entered into between the EU and the UK by 30 March 2019) and with non-EU countries (because the 53 trade agreements with non-EU countries were secured by the EU directly, on behalf of its then 28 member-states, including with Canada, Singapore, South Korea).
On 30 March 2019, the UK will regain its right to conclude binding trade agreements with non-EU countries, and with the EU of course.
While the UK government laboriously launches itself into the negotiation of at least 54 trade agreements, including with the EU, customs duties will be reinstated between the UK and all other European countries, including the UK. This is going to lead to a very disadvantageous situation for UK businesses, as the cost of trading goods and products with foreign countries will substantially increase, both for imports and exports.
Creative companies headquartered in the UK, which export and import goods and products, such as fashion, design and tech companies, are going to be especially at risk, here, with the cost of imported raw material increasing, and the rise or appearance of custom duties on exports of their products to the EU and non-EU countries. Fashion and luxury businesses, in particular, are at risk, since they export more than seventy percent of their production overseas.
Since the UK has most of its trade (57 percent of exports and 66 percent of imports in 2016) done with countries bound by EU trade agreements, both UK companies and UK consumers must brace themselves for a shock, when they will start trading after 30 March 2019. The cost of life is going to become more expensive in the UK (since most products and goods are imported, in particular from EU member-states), and operating costs are also going to increase for UK businesses.
While some Brexiters claim that the UK will be fine, by reverting to trading with the ‟rest of the world” under the rules of the World Trade Organisation (‟WTO”), it is important to note that right now, only 24 countries are trading with the UK on WTO rules (like any one of the 28 member-states of the EU because no EU trade deal was concluded with these non-EU countries). After 30 March 2019, the UK will trade with the rest of the world under WTO rules, as long as the other state is also a member of the WTO (for example, Algeria, Serbia and North Korea are not WTO members). Moreover, some tariffs will apply to all UK exports, under those WTO rules.
It definitely does not look like a panacea to trade under WTO rules, so the UK government and its Bank of England will weaken the pound sterling as much as possible, to set off the financial burden represented by these custom duties and taxes.
Creative companies headquartered in the UK, which export goods and products, such as fashion and design companies, should now relocate their manufacturing operations to the EU or low wages and low tax territories, such as South East Asia, as soon as possible, to avoid the new customs duties and taxation of goods and products which will inevitably arise, after 30 March 2019.
While a cynical example, since James Dyson was a fervent Brexiter who called on the UK government to walk away from the EU without a withdrawal deal, UK creative businesses manufacturing goods and products must emulate vacuum cleaner and hair dryer technology company Dyson, that will be moving its headquarters from Wiltshire to Singapore this year.
Moreover, the UK will face non-tariff barriers, in the same way that China and the US trade with the EU. Non-tariff barriers are any measure, other than a customs tariff, that acts as a barrier to international trade, such as regulations, rules of origin or quotas. In particular, regulatory divergence from the EU will make it harder to trade goods, introducing non-tariff barriers: when the UK will leave the EU customs union, on 30 March 2019, any goods crossing the border will have to meet rules of origin requirements, to prove that they did indeed come from the UK – introducing paperwork and non-tariff barriers.
2.2. Removal of free movement of services and VAT changes
On 30 March 2019, UK services – accounting for eighty percent of the UK economy – will lose their preferential access to the EU single market, which will constitute another non-tariff barrier.
The free movement of services and of establishment allows self-employed persons to move between member-states in order to provide services on a temporary or permanent basis. While services account for between sixty and seventy percent of GDP, on average, in all 28 EU member-states, most legislation in this area is not as developed as in other areas.
There are no customs duties and taxation on services, therefore UK creative industries which mainly provide services (such as the tech and internet sector, marketing, PR and communication services, etc) are less at risk of being detrimentally impacted by the exit of the UK from the EU without a withdrawal agreement.
However, since the UK will become a non-EU country from 30 March 2019 onwards, EU businesses and UK business alike will no longer be able to apply the EU rules relating to VAT, and in particular to intra-community VAT, when they trade with UK and EU businesses respectively. This therefore means that, from 30 March 2019 onwards, a EU business will no longer charge VAT to a UK company, but will keep on charging VAT to its UK client who is a natural person. Also, a UK business will no longer charge VAT to a EU company, but will keep on charging VAT to its EU client who is a natural person.
Positive changes on VAT are also in the works, because the UK will no longer have to comply with EU VAT law (on rates of VAT, scope of exemptions, zero-rating, etc.): the UK will have more flexibility in those areas.
However, there will no doubt be disputes between taxpayers and HMRC over the VAT treatment of transactions that predate 30 March 2019, where EU law may still be in point. Because the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union (‟CJEU”) will cease completely in relation to UK matters on 30 March 2019, any such questions of EU law will be dealt with entirely by the UK courts. Indeed, UK courts have stopped referring new cases to the CJEU in any event, since last year.
2.3. Removal of free movement of capital and loss of passporting rights for the UK financial services industry
Since the UK will leave the EU without a withdrawal agreement, free movement of capital, which is intended to permit movement of investments such as property purchases and buying of shares between EU member-states, will cease to apply between the EU and the UK on 30 March 2019.
Capital within the EU may be transferred in any amount from one country to another (except that Greece currently has capital controls restricting outflows) and all intra-EU transfers in euro are considered as domestic payments and bear the corresponding domestic transfer costs. This EU central payments infrastructure is based around TARGET2 and the Single Euro Payments Area (‟SEPA”). This includes all member-states of the EU, even those outside the eurozone, provided the transactions are carried out in euros. Credit/debit card charging and ATM withdrawals within the Eurozone are also charged as domestic.
Since the UK has always kept the pound sterling during its 43 years’ stint in the EU, absolutely refusing to ditch it for the euro, transfer costs on capital movements – from euros to pound sterling and vice versa – have always been fairly high in the UK anyway.
However, as the UK will crash out of the EU without a deal on 30 March 2019, such transfer costs, as well as new controls on capital movements, will be put in place and impact creative businesses and professionals when they want to transfer money from the UK to EU member-states and vice-versa. While the UK government is looking to align payments legislation to maximise the likelihood of remaining a member of SEPA as a third country, the fact that it has decided not to sign the withdrawal agreement with the EU will not help such alignment process.
The cost of card payments between the UK and EU will increase, and these cross-border payments will no longer be covered by the surcharging ban (which prevents businesses from being able to charge consumers for using a specific payment method).
It is therefore advisable for UK creative companies to open business bank accounts, in euros, either in EU countries which are strategic to them, or online through financial services providers such as Transferwise’s borderless account. UK businesses and professionals will hence avoid being narrowly limited to their UK pound sterling denominated bank accounts and being tributary to the whims of politicians and bureaucrats attempting to negotiate new trade agreements on freedom of capital movements between the UK and the EU, and other non-EU countries.
Also, forging ties with banking, insurance and other financial services providers in one of the remaining 27 member-states of the EU may be really useful to UK creative industries, after 30 March 2019, because the UK will no longer be able to carry out any banking, insurance and other financial services activities through the EU passporting process. Indeed, financial services is a highly regulated sector, and the EU internal market for financial services is highly integrated, underpinned by common rules and standards, and extensive supervisory cooperation between regulatory authorities at an EU and member-state level. Firms, financial market infrastructures, and funds authorised in any EU member-state can carry out many activities in any other EU member-state, through a process known as ‟passporting”, as a direct result of their EU authorisation. This means that if these entities are authorised in one member-state, they can provide services to customers in all other EU member-states, without requiring authorisation or supervision from the local regulator.
The European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 will transfer EU law, including that relating to financial services, into UK statutes on 30 March 2019. It will also give the UK government powers to amend UK law, to ensure that there is a fully functioning financial services regulatory framework on 30 March 2019.
However, on 30 March 2019, UK financial services firms’ position in relation to the EU will be determined by any applicable EU rules that apply to non-EU countries at that time. Therefore, UK financial services firms and funds will lose their passporting rights into the EU: this means that their UK customers will no longer be able to use the EU services of UK firms that used to passport into the EU, but also that their EU customers will no longer be able to use the UK services of such UK firms.
For example, the UK is a major centre for investment banking in Europe, with UK investment banks providing investment services and funding through capital markets to business clients across the EU. On 30 March 2019, EU clients may no longer be able to use the services of UK-based investment banks, and UK-based investment banks may be unable to service existing cross-border contracts.
3. Legal implications of Brexit in the UK
On 30 March 2019, the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 (the ‟Act”) will take effect, repeal the European Communities Act 1972 (the ‟ECA”) and retain in effect almost all UK laws which have been derived from the EU membership of the UK since 1 January 1973. The Act will therefore continue enforce all EU-derived domestic legislation, which is principally delegated legislation passed under the ECA to implement directives, and convert all direct EU legislation, i.e. EU regulations and decisions, into UK domestic law.
Consequently, the content of EU law as it stands on 30 March 2019 is going to be a critical piece of legal history for the purpose of UK law for decades to come.
Some of the legal practices which are going to be strongly impacted by the UK crashing out of the EU are intellectual property law, dispute resolution, financial services law, franchising, employment law, product compliance and liability, as well as tax.
In particular, there is no clarity from the UK government, at this stage, on how EU trademarks, registered with the European Union Intellectual Property Office (‟EUIPO”) are going to apply in the UK, if at all, after 30 March 2019. The same goes for Registered Community Designs (‟RCD”), which are also issued by the EUIPO.
At least, some clarity exists in relation to European patents: the UK exit from the EU should not affect the current European patent system, which is governed by the (non-EU) European Patent Convention. Therefore, UK businesses will be able to apply to the European Patent Office (‟EPO”) for patent protection which will include the UK. Existing European patents covering the UK will also be unaffected. European patent attorneys based in the UK will continue to be able to represent applicants before the EPO.
Similarly, and since the UK is a member of a number of international treaties and agreements protecting copyright, the majority of UK copyright works (such as music, films, books and photographs) are protected around the world. This will continue to be the case, following the UK exit from the EU. However, certain cross-border copyright mechanisms, especially those relating to collecting societies and rights management societies, and those relating to the EU digital single market, are going to cease applying in the UK.
Enforcement of IP rights, as well as commercial and civil rights, is also going to be uncertain for some time: the UK will cease to be part of the EU Observatory, and of bodies such as Europol and the EU customs’ databases to register intellectual property rights against counterfeiting, on 30 March 2019.
The EU regulation n. 1215/2012 of 12 December 2012, on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters, will cease to apply in the UK once it is no longer an EU member-state. Therefore, after 30 March 2019, no enforcement system will be in place, to enforce an English judgment in a EU member-state, and vice-versa. Creative businesses will have to rely on domestic recognition regimes in the UK and each EU member-state, if in existence. This will likely introduce additional procedural steps before a foreign judgment is recognised, which will make enforcement more time-consuming and expensive.
To conclude, the UK government seems comfortable with the fact that mayhem is going to happen, from 30 March 2019 onwards, in the UK, in a very large number of industrial sectors, legal practices, and cross-border administrative systems such as immigration and customs, for the mere reason than no agreed and negotiated planning was put in place, on a wide scale, by the UK and the EU upon exit of the UK from the EU. This approach makes no economic, social and financial sense but this is besides the point. Right now, what creative businesses and professionals need to focus on is to prepare contingency plans, as explained above, and to keep on monitoring new harmonisation processes that will undoubtedly be put in place, in a few years, by the UK and its trading partners outside and inside the EU, once they manage to find common ground and enter into bilateral agreements organising this new business era for the UK.
In order to develop one’s market and increase turnover potential, a company should widen its business internationally. What are the legal and commercial aspects that need to be checked, in order to ensure a successful international development?
1. Draft a business plan
Firstly, international development starts with drafting a business plan, comprising, in particular, a budget forecasting the transaction costs, cash flow projections and cash flow statements, as well as income statements on a 5 to 7 years’ period, and a SWOT analysis (‟Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats”).
2. Find the necessary funds for your international development
Secondly, it is necessary to raise funds, either internally, by using the reserves or a share of the operating result, or externally, by soliciting financial support (in particular with organisations such as Oseo, BpiFrance, Coface, Business France) or by borrowing with banks. It is also possible to reach out to investors, business angels, capital-risk or capital-venture funds, if your company shows very high growth prospects and if you are ready to transfer a share of your company’s shareholding capital.
3. Be well protected
Moreover, and in parallel with the steps described above, it is appropriate to reduce all the risks, in particular legal, linked to the international expansion.
In particular, it is necessary to check the professional indemnity insurance policy which covers your company, as well as its international transactions. If so, on which geographic territories are you covered? Up to which amount? Are there any exclusion clauses to the insurance cover abroad ? Which ones?
3.2. Intellectual property
Moreover, it is essential to protect your brand well and, if possible, the designs of your company, internationally, within all the territories where you intend to expand your activity. Thus, it is recommended to register your trademark in the countries which manufacture your products as well as in the countries where these products are sold. International extension of your trademark – French or European , is therefore ‟de rigueur”.
The same applies to designs which constitute the most important intangible assets of your company. For example, a bag which is the cash cow of your business, because its sales represent more than 20 percent of your annual turnover, must be protected through the registration of a design with the EUropean Union Intellectual Property office and, if possible, other intellectual property offices abroad.
4. Growing your business abroad, either on your own or through a third party
International development can occur in various ways:
- either the company will invest on its own, by leasing some premises or a shop located on the desired foreign territory;
- or the company will delegate the management of the international expansion to a third party, such as an agent, a distributor, a licensee or a franchisee. It is therefore necessary to set up and negotiate appropriate agreements, which will rule the relationships with the landlord, in case of a direct expansion by the company, or with an agent, distributor, licensee or franchisee. These contracts are complex and often set out some mandatory provisions required by the law in force. It is therefore necessary to obtain legal advice, from counsel located in the foreign jurisdiction in question, before signing anything with the other party.
If you develop your business on your own, abroad, you will have to ask yourself whether you need to incorporate, or not, a new company which will be located on the territory which is the object of such expansion. Will this new company be a subsidiary, a branch, the parent company, a sister company of the French company? What is the most advantageous for you, from a tax and accounting standpoint? Again, in this case, it is necessary to seek advice from your lawyer, so that your counsel may conduct in depth research on the pros and cons of each option. Your counsel may also connect you to competent chartered accountants, in the country where the international expansion is taking place, who will be able to manage the accounting of the new legal entity.
5. Make sure to comply with local consumer law
If your business sells products and services to consumers, there is a high probability that a legal framework is in place, in the country where you intend to expand, to protect its consumers. You therefore need to inform yourself about such regulatory framework, before starting to sell your products and services to consumers abroad, in order to ensure that your wares will be offered in compliance with the laws in force. Otherwise, beware of administrative, legal and even criminal proceedings and actions which may target your company, especially if you sell products off premises (on internet, at fares, markets, trade shows, etc.).
International expansion is a dynamic and fascinating project for your company, which may increase exponentially its sales’ impact. However, risks are high, from a legal and tax standpoint, and it is necessary to prepare with details such international adventure, in order to minimise all these risks. To this effect, seek advice from a specialised lawyer becomes indispensable.
What are business owners obligations, in terms of registering beneficial ownership of their companies? How do these obligations differ, in France and the United Kingdom, even though such obligations stem from the same European legislation, i.e. the European Directive 2015/849 dated 20 May 2015 on money laundering?
1. What is this all about?
On 20 May 2015, the Directive (EU) 2015/849 of the European Parliament and of the Council on the prevention of the use of the financial system for the purposes of money laundering or terrorist financing, amending Regulation (EU) No 648/2012 of the European Parliament and of the Council, and repealing Directive 2005/60/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council, was published (the ‟Directive”).
As set out in the recitals of the Directive, and in order to better fight against money laundering, terrorism financing and organised crime, ‟there is a need to identify any natural person who exercises ownership or control over a legal entity (…). Identification and verification of beneficial owners should, where relevant, extend to legal entities that own other legal entities, and obliged entities should look for the natural person(s) who ultimately exercises control through ownership or through other means of the legal entity that is the customer”.
In addition, ‟the need for accurate and up-to-date information on the beneficial owner is a key factor in tracing criminals who might otherwise hide their identity behind the corporate structure”.
Chapter III (Beneficial ownership information) of the Directive relates to such topic.
In particular, article 30 of the Directive provides that ‟member states shall ensure that the information (on beneficial ownership) is held in a central register in each member state, for example a commercial register, companies register or a public register (…). Member states shall ensure that the information on the beneficial ownership is adequate, accurate and current” and accessible ‟to competent authorities, without any restriction; (…) and to any person or organisation that can demonstrate a legitimate interest”.
These persons or organisations shall access at least the name, the month and year of birth, the nationality and the country of residence of the beneficial owner as well as the nature and extent of the beneficial interest held.
2. Registration of beneficial ownership in French companies
With typical Gallic nonchalance, and while the deadline to transpose the Directive in each member-state was 26 June 2017, France transposed the Directive almost one year later, through its Ordinance n. 2016-1635 of 1 December 2016 reinforcing the French mechanism against money laundering and the financing of terrorism and of the Decree n. 2017-1094 of 12 June 2017 relating to the registry of effective beneficiaries as defined in article L. 561-2-2 of the French monetary and financial code (the ‟Ordinance” and the ‟Decree” respectively), with a compliance deadline of 1 April 2018.
The Ordinance and Decree, which have now been incorporated in the French monetary and financial code, compel all companies operating in France to register their beneficial owners with the Registry of Commerce and Companies of the competent Commercial court (the ‟Registry”).
2.1. Beneficial ownership and filing with the Registry
The notion of beneficial ownership is not defined in the Decree, although is it defined in the Directive as including each natural person who either ultimately owns, directly or indirectly, more than 25% of the share capital or voting rights of the company, or exercises, by any other means, a supervisory power on the managing, administrative or executive bodies of the company or on the shareholders general assembly.
The information that must be filed is essentially identical to that required by financial institutions and other entities such as law firms, in order for them to carry out their mandatory Know-Your-Client (KYC) procedures.
2.2. The initial filings
The declaration of beneficial ownership must be filed at the Registry when a company is first registered with the Registry or, at the latest, within 15 days as of the date of issuance of the receipt of registration (article R. 561-55 of the French monetary and financial code) i.e. when it is created or opens a branch in France.
2.3. Corrective filings
For companies already registered, the deadline for the declaration is 1 April 2018. If subsequent updates are required, new filing must be made within 30 days as of the fact or the act giving rise to a required update (article R. 561-55 of the French monetary and financial code).
2.4. On the beneficial owner
The declaration must set out the owner’s name and particulars, as well as the means of control exercised by the beneficial owner and the date on which s/he became a beneficial owner (article R. 561-56, 2. of the French monetary and financial code).
2.5. Persons having access to the register of beneficial owners
Access to the register of beneficial owners is limited to magistrates of the civil courts and the Ministry of Justice; investigators working for the ‟Autorité des Marchés Financiers” (French financial markets regulator); agents of the ‟Direction Générale des Finances Publiques” (Directorate-General for Public Finances); qualifying credit institutions, insurance and mutual insurance companies and investment services providers; and any person authorised by a court decision to this effect.
2.6. Penalties for non-compliance
The new provisions of the French monetary and financial code provide remedial penalties with the possibility for any person having a legitimate interest to bring an action in order to force the defaulting company to fulfil its obligation to declare its beneficial owners (article R. 561-48 of the French monetary and financial code).
Punitive provisions have also been introduced: failure to declare the beneficial owners to the Registry or filing a declaration involving incomplete or inaccurate information is punishable by 6 months of imprisonment and a fine of Euros 7,500 (article 561-49 of the French monetary and financial code).
3. Registration of beneficial ownership in British companies
Well within the deadline to transpose the Directive in each member-state of 26 June 2017, the United Kingdom transposed the Directive on time, through its new paragraph 24(3) of Schedule 1A of the Companies Act 2006, as amended by Schedule 3 to the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015 (the ‟Companies Act” and ‟Enterprise Act” respectively), with a compliance deadline of 30 June 2016.
The Companies Act and Enterprise Act, compel all companies operating in the United Kingdom to keep a register of Persons with Significant Control (‟PSC register”) and to file this PSC information via their confirmation statements, upon the due filing date of their respective confirmation statements with Companies House, i.e. the British equivalent to the French Registry of Commerce and Companies of the competent Commercial court (‟Companies House”).
3.1. Beneficial ownership and filing with Companies House
The notion of beneficial ownership, or significant influence or control, as set out in the Companies Act, is defined in the Companies Act as including each natural person who either ultimately owns, directly or indirectly, more than 25 percent of the share capital or voting rights of the company, or exercises, by any other means, a supervisory power on the managing, administrative or executive bodies of the company or on the shareholders general assembly.
UK companies, ‟Societates Europae” (‟SEs”), Limited liability partnerships (‟LLPs”) and eligible Scottish partnerships (‟ESPs”), will be required to identify and record the people with significant control.
3.2. The initial filings
The PSC information must be filed with the central public register at Companies House when a company is first registered with Companies House, i.e. when it is created or opens a branch in the UK.
In addition, new companies, SEs, LLPs need to draft and keep a PSC register in relation to them, in addition to existing registers such as the register of directors and the register of members (i.e. shareholders).
3.3. Corrective filings
For companies already registered, on 6 April 2016, the Companies Act required all companies to keep a PSC register and, from 30 June 2016, companies started to file this PSC information via their confirmation statements.
As each company has a different filing date, based on the anniversary of their respective incorporation, it took up to 12 months (i.e. 30 June 2017) to develop a full picture of all UK companies’ PSCs.
3.4. On the beneficial owner
Before a PSC can be entered on the PSC register, you must confirm all the details with them.
The details you require are:
- date of birth;
- country, state or part of the UK where the PSC usually lives;
- service address;
- usual residential address (this must not be disclosed when making your register available for inspection of providing copies of the PSC register);
- the date s/he became a PSC in relation to the company (for existing companies, the 6 April 2016 was used);
- which conditions for being a PSC are met;
- this must include the level of shares and/or voting rights, within the following categories:
- over 25 percent up to (and including) 50 percent;
- more than 50 percent and less than 75 percent;
- 75 percent or more;
- the company is only required to identify whether a PSC meets the condition relating to the control and significant influence, if they do not exercise control through the shareholding and voting rights conditions;
- this must include the level of shares and/or voting rights, within the following categories:
- whether an application has been made for the individual’s information to be protected from public disclosure.
3.5. Persons having access to the register of beneficial owners
A company’s PSC register should contain the information listed in paragraph 3.4 above, for each PSC of the company. However, that may not always be possible. Where, for some reason, the PSC information cannot be provided, other statements will need to be made instead, explaining why the PSC information is not available. The PSC register can never be blank and such information must be provided to Companies House.
Unlike in France PSC information is freely available, for each company, on Companies House’s website.
As the PSC register is one of the company’s statutory registers, each UK company must keep it at its registered office (or alternative inspection location). Anyone with a proper purpose may have access to the PSC register without charge or have a copy of it for which companies may charge GBP12.
If compared with the French situation, it is therefore much easier to obtain the PSC register for a UK company, than for a French company.
3.6. Penalties for non-compliance
Company officers who fail to take all reasonable steps to disclose their PSCs are liable to be fined or imprisoned (by way of a prison sentence of up to two years) or both. If an investigated person fails to respond to the company’s request for information, the company is allowed to ‟freeze” the relevant shares by stopping proposed transfers and dividends in relation to those shares.
Crefovi is here to support you, in the drafting of documents relating to the registration of beneficial ownership.
The General Data Protection Regulation (‟GDPR”) is upon us: what is it? How is it going to impact you and your business? What do you need to do in order to become GDPR compliant? There is not a moment to waste, as the stakes are very high, and since becoming GDPR compliant will definitely bring competitive advantages to your business.
On 27 April 2016, after more than 4 years of discussion and negotiation, the European parliament and council adopted the General Data Protection Regulation (‟GDPR”).
1. Why the GDPR?
The GDPR repeals Directive 95/46/EC on the protection of individuals with regards to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data (the ‟Directive”).
The Directive, which entered into force more than 20 years’ ago, was no longer fit for purpose, as the amount of digital information businesses create, capture and store has vastly increased.
Data, the bigger the better, is here to stay. Today’s data more and more greases our digital world. Control of data is ultimately about power and data ownership does seriously impact competition on any given market. By collecting more data, a firm has more scope to improve its products, which attracts more users, generating even more data, and so on. Data assets are, today, at least as important as other intangible assets such as trademarks, copyright, patents and designs, to companies. The stakes are way higher, today, as far as data ownership, control and processing are concerned, and GDPR addresses that data flow in the 21st century, as we all engage with technology, more and more.
Moreover, many legal cases, brought up in various member-states of the European Union (‟EU”), pinpointed the severe weaknesses and gaps in providing satisfactory, strong and homogeneous protection of personal data, relating to EU citizens, and controlled by companies and businesses operating in the EU. For example, the Costeja v Google judgment, from the Court of Justice of the European Union (‟CJEU”), commonly referred to as the ‟right to the forgotten” ruling, was handed down on 26 November 2014. This ground-breaking judgment recognised that search engine operators, such as Google, process personal data and qualify as data controllers within the meaning of Article 2 of the Directive. As such, the CJEU ruling recognised that a data subject may ‟request (from a search engine) that the information (relating to him/her personally) no longer be made available to the general public on account of its inclusion in (…) a list of results”. Through this decision, the CJEU forced search engines such as Google to remove, when requested, URL links that are ‟inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive in relation to the purposes for which they were processed and in the light of the time that has elapsed”. It was a huge step forward for personal data protection in the EU.
In addition, data breaches at, and cyber-attacks of, thousands of international businesses (Sony Pictures, Yahoo, Linkedin, Equifax, etc.) as well as EU national companies (Talktalk, etc.) make the news, consistently and on a very regular basis, dramatically affecting the financial and moral well being of millions of consumers whose personal data was hacked because of these data breaches. These attacks and breaches raise very serious concerns as to whether businesses managing personal data of EU consumers are actually “up to scratch”, in terms of proactively fighting against cyber-crime and protecting personal data.
Finally, the GDPR, which will be immediately enforceable in the 28 member-states of the EU without any transposition from 25 May 2018, unlike the Directive which had to be transposed in each EU member-state by way of national rules, standardises all national laws applicable in these member-states and therefore provides more uniformity across them. The GDPR levels the playing field.
2. When will the GDPR enter into force?
The GDPR, adopted in April 2016, enters into force on 25 May 2018, ideally giving a 2-year preparation period to businesses and public bodies to adapt to the changes.
While many EU business owners take the view that the changes brought by the GDPR onto their businesses, will be of little or no importance or just as important as other compliance issues, there is not a minute to spare to prepare for compliance with the new set of complex and lengthy rules set out in the GDPR.
3. What is at stake? Which organisations are impacted by the GDPR?
A lot is at stake. All businesses, organisations or entities which operate in the EU or which are headquartered outside of the EU but collect, hold or process personal data of EU citizens must be GDPR compliant by 25 May 2018. Potentially, the GDPR may apply to every website and application on a global basis.
As most if not all multinationals have customers, employees and/or business partners in the EU, they must become GDPR compliant. Even start-ups and SMEs must be GDPR compliant, if their business model infer that they will collect, hold or process personal data of EU citizens (i.e. customers, prospects, employees, contractors, suppliers, etc).
The stakes are very high for most businesses and, for many companies, it is becoming a board-level conversation and issue.
To ensure compliance with the new legal framework for data protection, and the implementation of the new provisions, the GDPR introduced an enforcement regime of very heavy financial sanctions to be imposed on businesses that do not comply with it. If an organisation does not process EU individuals’ data in the correct way, it can be fined, up to 4 percent of its annual worldwide turnover, or Euros 20 million – whichever is greater.
These future fines are way larger than the GBP500,000 capped penalty the UK Data Protection Authority (‟DPA”), the Information Commissioner Office (‟ICO”), or the maximum 300,000 Euros capped penalty that the French DPA, the ‟Commission Nationale Informatique et Libertés” (‟CNIL”), can currently inflict on businesses.
4. What are the GDPR provisions about?
The GDPR provides 99 articles setting out the rights of individuals and obligations placed on organisations within the scope of the GDPR.
Compared to the Directive, here are the new key concepts brought by the GDPR.
4.1. Privacy by design
The principle of ‟privacy by design” means that businesses must take a proactive and preventive approach in relation to the protection of privacy and personal data. For example, a business that limits the quantity of data collected, or anonymises such data, does comply with the ‟privacy by design” principle.
This obligation of ‟privacy by design” implies that businesses must integrate – by all appropriate technical means – the security of personal data at the inception of their applications or business procedures.
Accountability means that the data controller, as well as the data processor, must take appropriate legal, organisational and technical measures allowing them to comply with the GDPR. Moreover, data controllers and data processors must be able to demonstrate the execution of such measures, in all transparency and at any given point in time, both to their respective DPAs and to the natural persons whose data has been treated by them.
These measures must be proportionate to the risk, i.e. the prejudice that would be caused to EU citizens, in case of inappropriate use of their data.
In order to know whether a business is compliant, it is therefore necessary to execute an audit of the data processes made by such company. We, at Crefovi, often execute some audits certified by the CNIL or the ICO.
4.3. Privacy impact Assessment
The business in charge of treating and processing personal data, as well as its subcontractors, must execute an analysis, a Privacy Impact Assessment (‟PIA”) relating to the protection of personal data.
Businesses must do a PIA, a privacy risk assessment, on their data assets, in order to track and map risks inherent to each data process and treatment put in place, according to their plausibility and seriousness. Next to those risks, the PIA sets out the list of organisational, IT, physical and legal measures implemented to address and minimise these risks. The PIA aims at checking the adequacy of such measures and, if these measures fail that test, at determining proportionate measures to address those uncovered risks and to ensure the business becomes GDPR compliant.
Crefovi supports companies in performing PIAs and in checking the efficiency of the security and protection measures, thanks to the execution of intrusion tests.
4.4. Data Protection Officer
The GDPR requires that a Data Protection Officer (‟DPO”) be appointed, in order to ensure the compliance of treatment of personal data by public administrations and businesses which data treatments present a strong risk of breach of privacy. The DPO is the spokesperson of the organisation in relation to personal data: he or she is the ‟go to” point of contact, for the DPA, in relation to data processing compliance, but also for individuals whose data has been collected, so that they can exercise their rights.
In addition to holding the prerogatives of the ‟correspondant informatique et liberté” (‟CIL”) in France, or chief privacy officer in the UK, the DPO must inform his/her interlocutors of any data breaches which may arise in the organisation, and analyse their impact.
Profiling is an automated processing of personal data allowing the construction of complex information about a particular person, such as her preferences, productivity at work or her whereabouts.
This type of data processing can generate automated decision-making, which may trigger legal consequences, without any human intervention. In this way, profiling constitutes a risk to civil liberties. This is why those businesses doing profiling must limit its risks and guarantee the rights of individuals subjected to such profiling, in particular by allowing them to request human intervention and/or contest the automated decision.
4.6. Right to be forgotten
As explained above, the right to be forgotten allows an individual to avoid that information about his/her past interferes with his/her actual life. In the digital world, that right encompasses the right to erasure as well as the right to dereferencing. On the one hand, the person can have potentially harmful content erased from a digital network, and, on the other hand, the person can dissociate a keyword (such as her first name and family name) from certain web pages on a search engine.
4.7. Other individuals’ rights
The GDPR supplements the right to be forgotten by firmly putting EU citizens back in control of their personal data, substantially reinforcing the consent obligation to data processing, as well as citizens’ rights (right to access data, right to rectify data, right to limit data processing, right to data portability and right to oppose data processing), and information obligations by businesses about citizens’ rights.
5. Is there a silver lining to the GDPR?
5.1. An opportunity to manage those precious data assets
Compliance with GDPR should be viewed by businesses as an opportunity, as much as an obligation: with data being ever more important in an organisation today, this is a great opportunity to take stock of what data your company has, and how you can get most advantage of it.
The key tenet of GDPR is that it will give you the ability to find data in your organisation that is highly sensitive and high value, and ensure that it is protected adequately from risks and data breaches.
5.2. Lower formalities and one-stop DPA
Moreover, the GDPR withdraws the obligation of prior declaration to one’s DPA, before any data processing, and replaces these formalities with mandatory creation and management of a data processing register.
In addition, the GDPR sets up a one-stop DPA: in case of absence of a specific national legislation, a DPA located in the EU member-state in which the organisation has its main or unique establishment will be in charge of controlling compliance with the GDPR.
Businesses will determine their respective DPA with respect to the place of establishment of their management functions as far as supervision of data processing is concerned, which will allow to identify the main establishment, including when a sole company manages the operations of a whole group.
This unique one-stop DPA will allow companies to substantially save time and money by simplifying their processes.
5.3. Unified regulation, easier data transfers
In order to favour the European data market and the digital economy, and therefore create a favourable economic environment, the GDPR reinforces the protection of personal data and civil liberties.
This unified regulation will allow businesses to substantially reduce the costs of processing data currently incurred in the 28 EU member-states: organisations will no longer have to comply with multiple national regulations for the collection, harvesting, transfer and storing of data that they use.
Moreover, since data will comply with legislations applicable in all EU countries, it will become possible to exchange it and it will have the same value in different countries, while currently data has different prices depending on the legislation it complies with, as well as different costs for the companies that collect it.
5.4. A geographical scope extended by fair competition
The scope of the GDPR extends to companies which are headquartered outside the EU, but intend to market goods and services in the EU market, as long as they put in place processes and treatments of personal data relating to EU citizens. Following these residents on internet, in order to create some profiles, is also covered by the GDPR scope.
Therefore, European companies, subjected to strict, and potentially expensive, rules, will not be penalised by international competition on the EU single market. In addition, they may buy from non-EU companies some data which is compliant with GDPR provisions, therefore making the data market wider.
5.5. Opening digital services to competition
The right to portability of data will allow EU citizens subjected to data treatment and processing to gather this data in an exploitable format or to transfer such data to another data controller if this is technically possible.
This way, the client will be able to change digital services provider (email, pictures, etc.) without having to manually retrieve all the data, during a fastidious and time-consuming process. By lifting such technical barriers, the GDPR makes the market more fluid, and offers to users enhanced digital mobility. Digital services providers will therefore evolve in a more competitive market, inciting them in providing better priced and higher quality services, as their clients will no longer be hostages to their initial provider.
5.6. Labels and certifications
The European committee on data protection, as well as EU institutions, will propose some certifications and labels in order to certify compliance with the GDPR of data processes performed by businesses.
Cashable recognition and true asset for the brand image of a company, labels and certifications will also become a strong commercial tool in order to gain prospects’ trusts and to win their loyalty.
6. What are the actionable steps to take, right now, to become GDPR compliant?
There is not a moment to lose to implement the following steps, below:
- decide on the ownership of implementing the GDPR provisions in your organisation; assign ownership to the best suited department or team (Legal? Compliance? Technology?);
- liaise with your one-stop DPA, as several of them have prepared useful explanatory information or guidance to comply with GDPR, such as the ICO in the UK, the CNIL in France and the Data Protection Commissioner in Ireland (the latter being the DPA of many a digital giant, such as Google, Facebook and Twitter);
- draft a map of the data processes in your organisation, and identify the gaps in GDPR compliance in relation to these various processes – we, at Crefovi, have drafted some detailed documents on how to make this mapping of data processes and treatments and to support you on identifying the gaps in GDPR compliance;
- value the various data processes and treatments and assess which ones are high risk and make a list of your high-risk data assets;
- execute a PIA on those high-risk data assets (such as Human resources’ data, customers’ data) – Crefovi supports companies in performing PIAs and in checking the efficiency of the security and protection measures, thanks to the execution of intrusion tests;
- implement legal, technical, organisational and physical measures to lower risks on those data assets and become GDPR compliant;
- ensure that your contractors and subcontractors have put compliant security measures in place, by sending them a list of points to check;
- do privacy awareness training for your employees as they must understand that personal data is anything that can be linked directly to an individual and that there will be some consequences if they break the GDPR provisions and steal personal data;
- develop a Bring Your Own Device policy (‟BYOD”) and enforce it within your organisation and among your employees, since you are accountable for all data user information stored in the cloud and accessible from both corporate devices (tablets, smartphones, laptops) and personal devices. Also, when employees leave or are terminated, make sure that you have included BYOD in your off-boarding process, so that leaving staff lose access to company confidential data immediately on their devices;
- check and/or redraft the information notices or confidentiality policies in order that they set out the new information required by the GDPR;
- put in place automated mechanisms in order to obtain explicit consent from EU citizens, especially if your business deals with behavioural data collection, behavioural advertising or any other form of profiling;
- put in place a solid management plan in case personal data breaches happen, which will allow you to comply with the mandatory requirement to notify your DPA within 72 hours – our in-depth experience of alert, risk management, analytical and notification plans, in France and the United Kingdom, put us, at Crefovi, in a great position to support our clients to prepare for the demanding requirements set out in the GDPR.
 ‟The world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data”, The economist, 6 May 2017.
 ‟Preparing for the general data protection regulation: a roadmap to the key changes introduced by the new European data protection regime”, Alexandra Varla, 2017.
Annabelle Gauberti, founding and managing partner of London law firm Crefovi, delivers her Crefovi Christmas newsletter and wishes, as well as what to look out for in 2017.
2016 was a tough year for the creative industries: a lot of music performers bid their farewell to the world and I really do hope that they are now in heaven, especially Leonard Cohen, David Bowie and George Michael.
It was also a highly divisive year, with several high-stakes democratically-taken decisions which left the ‟loosers” deeply aggravated by the majority’s votes mostly based on ‟post truths”, downright lies, emotions, feelings and an unprecedented level of resentment. Is this the most efficient, rational and successful way to appoint a leader and build a road to economic recovery? I certainly do not think so.
2017 is going to be the year of isolationism as geo-political fractures will grow wider, while demagogy should be reaching its peak in the USA and the UK. Meanwhile, the Eurozone will attempt to keep a semblance of unity, as three major election cycles are going to take place in Germany, France and the Netherlands and will probably bring their respective right and far right parties back to power, while ruthless negotiations on Brexit with the UK are going to create many tensions.
Sadly, it is unlikely that the member-states of the European Union, and in particular of the Eurozone, will muster the courage to take appropriate political and tax reforms in 2017, in order to boost EU growth, and provide the ECB with all the tools that a central bank needs to have at its disposal. While Germany will keep on displaying a shining trade surplus, borrowing on international capital markets at a 1 to 2 percent rate, such as France, Mediterranean Eurozone countries such as Greece, Italy and Spain will sink under the weight of their debt repayments and having to borrow on international capital markets at no less than a 5 percent rate.
What does this all mean for us, mere citizens of the world?
Well, if you have a business, a job in a high growth industrial sector (I am thinking services here), many clients who are based overseas, and/or a large portfolio of securities investments, 2017 is going to be a good year for you. Wall Street likes Trump and his promises of deregulation, the City likes the Tories and economists predict that the USA’s and UK’s GDP growth rates will be at 3 percent plus and 2 percent plus respectively next year.
If you do not have the means to enjoy the ride, because you are unemployed, employed in a low growth industrial sector (I am thinking manufacturing here), a refugee, a member of the working class or lower middle class, and/or a citizen of the Eurozone, well, brace yourself for a tough year ahead. It does not look bright and shiny, out there. Just watch Ken Loach’s last gem, ‟I, Daniel Blake”, and you will measure how the most vulnerable members of our ‟first world” societies are being squeezed, neutralised and downright eliminated by our ruling ‟intelligentsia”.
I predict that the very people who voted for Trump and Brexit are going to bear the brunt of the negative impact of such decisions, due to rising prices of food products and other basic commodities such as electricity and gas, and lower investments in public transports, public amenities and the public good in general.
The Eurozone will stay in a state of economic slump, like it has been for the last 6 to 7 years now, with no strong political figure pushing for essential economic, political and tax reforms which are, nonetheless, absolutely critical for the Eurozone project to live on and finally become successful.
Consequently, in view of all the above, there is going to be an ever increasing divide between the ‟haves” and the ‟have-nots”, while social tensions, riots and wars will be on the rise, globally.
It’s not going to be a good time to flash one’s wealth and status, out there, if you do not want to end up being robbed, burglarized or, simply, vilified for daring to differentiate yourself from the wolf pack.
The luxury and fashion sectors will suffer, as a result, as less and less members of the elite and middle classes are willing to purchase and display exterior signs of wealth.
The entertainment sector will continue to thrive, in 2017, with more and more consumers attracted by easier and cheaper access to, as well as diversified distribution channels of, video and audio content online, which they can consume at their leisure.
With a rising portion of a young, multi-racial and low-skilled pool of ‟first world” citizens permanently unemployed or disabled, the democratisation of the entertainment and gaming sectors has the additional benefit of providing “something to do” to these people, on a daily basis.
I am sorry that my Christmassy newsletter is not more upbeat and positive but, unlike Trump and the Tories, I value truth and rationalism above all things (with measured empathy and feelings added to the mix!).
2017 is going to be a very good year for the ‟haves” and a tough year for the ‟haves-nots” and, if like myself you think you belong to the ‟haves”, it is time to be cautious and to protect yourself against the spillage effects of unleashed capitalism and demagogy.
Above all, we should all individually strive to keep and improve our humanity in 2017, as well as work endlessly towards preserving our Earth’s assets, growing them, nurturing them and eliminating most immediate and serious threats to Earth’s and its inhabitants’ survival and wellbeing.
With very best wishes for the holiday season and the new year ahead.
While at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2016, we could not help noticing that one of the hottest topics discussed by all film professionals in attendance was film finance, or lack thereof. Also, Crefovi film clients regularly ask for our input on this touchy subject. How to finance your film production nowadays? What are the best strategies to get your film funded and produced, in this day and age?
Well, here is the lowdown: it’s not easy. You will have to work hard and in an efficient and professional manner to secure the trust and hard-won cash of all those stakeholders who can finance your film project or, at least, allow you to save money while producing your film.
1. What do you need film financing for exactly?
The cost items for a film project are vast, both in numbers and sizes, and can be divided according to the various stages of filmmaking, as follows.
1.1. The idea
All films start with a moment of inspiration. Good ideas and story concepts are the foundation of any solid film project. Screenwriters usually have the initial idea or story but producers, who are in charge of raising money for a film project, frequently come up with ideas as well.
Ideas for films can be original or adapted from plays, novels or real-life events, which make up approximately half of all Hollywood films.
Ideas cannot be protected by copyright – or any other intellectual property right for that matter – because copyright subsists only in the tangible expression of ideas. This is referred to as the idea/expression dichotomy.
Therefore, film makers must take all adequate measures to protect their ideas and stories, by only divulging them after having taken some prior protective measures (such as having the recipient of the information relating to the idea sign a non-disclosure and confidentiality agreement) and/or by even subscribing to producer errors and omissions insurance and multimedia risk insurance which cover legal liability and defence for the film production company against lawsuits alleging unauthorised uses, plagiarism or copying of titles, formats, ideas, characters, plots, as well as unfair competition or breach of privacy or contract.
1.2. Development finance
The next stage in the development of a film project is to turn a rough idea or story into a final script ready for production.
Development money is the financial sum that you need to invest in your idea, until it is in a form suitable for presenting to investors and capable of attracting production financing. Development money is used, for example, to pay the writer, while the script is being written or re-written, as well as the producer’s travel expenses to film markets to arrange pre-sales financing from investors, as well as location scouting and camera tests. It also covers the cost of administration and overheads until the film is officially in pre-production.
Producers typically pitch to secure the money for the development of the script, or, if they can afford it, put up development money themselves.
Indeed, development finance is the most expensive and financiers who put up development money typically expect a 50% bonus plus 5 percent from the producer’s fees. Bonus payment is usually scheduled to be paid on the first day of principal photography (i.e. the shoot or production), along with the 5 percent of the producer’s profits as the film starts to recoup.
1.3. Script development
Once development finance is secured, and once a story idea is firmly in place, the negotiation process between the screenwriter and the producer (or production company or film studio) begins.
The writer hires an agent who represents him and plays a critical role in ensuring that the writer’s interests are represented in the negotiation process. The agent also ensures that the writer is paid appropriately in accordance with what the writer’s intellectual property rights may be worth in the future.
The producer has an alternative, in order to move the film project forward on the script development front: either he can buy the rights to the story idea or the material (a novel or play) from which the script was adapted outright, or he can buy an option of the film rights. The first transaction is an assignment of copyright. Buying an option of the film rights means that the producer owns the right to develop the film but only for a certain amount of time, it is therefore an exclusive licence of copyright.
In either cases, the producer is the only person allowed to develop the film idea into a screenplay. He pays the writer in smaller, agreed-upon instalments throughout this period, and may also agree to pay such writer a significant higher amount for all film rights once shooting begins. After the terms are negotiated, the writer can finally start working on the screenplay.
The scriptwriter then enters into action and, if needed, may first write a screenplay synopsis, also called ‟concept”. Unlike a ‟treatment”, which is a narrative of everything that happens in a screenplay, a synopsis includes only the most important or interesting parts of the story. A synopsis is a short summary of the basic elements in your story. It describes the dramatic engine that will drive the story in no more than a few sentences.
If the producer likes the synopsis, then the writer will proceed onto drafting the treatment, which, as mentioned above, is a prose description of the plot, written in present tense, as the film will unfold for the audience, scene by scene. A treatment is a story draft where the writer can hammer out the basis actions and plot structure of the story before going into the complexities of realising fully developed scenes with dialogue, precise actions, and setting descriptions. The treatment is the equivalent of a painter’s sketch that can be worked and reworked before committing to the actual painting. It’s much easier to cut, add, and rearrange scenes in this form, than in a fully detailed screenplay.
The author’s draft is the first complete version of the narrative in proper screenplay format. The emphasis of the author’s draft is on the story, the development of characters, and the conflict, actions, settings and dialogue. The author’s draft goes through a number of rewrites and revisions on its way to becoming a final draft, which is the last version of the author’s draft before being turned into a shooting script. The aim of an author’s draft is to remain streamlined, flexible and readable. Therefore, technical information (such as detailed camera angles, performance cues, blocking, or detailed set description) is kept to an absolute minimum. It is important not to attempt to direct the entire film, shot-for-shot, in the author’s draft. The detailed visualisation and interpretation of the screenplay occur during later preproduction and production stages.
Once you have completed your rewrites and arrived at a final draft, you will be ready to take that script into production by transforming it into a shooting script. The shooting script is the version of the screenplay you take into production, meaning the script from which your creative team (cinematographer, production designer, etc.) will work and from which the film will be shot. A shooting script communicates, in specific terms, the director’s visual approach to the film. All the scenes are numbered on a shooting script to facilitate breaking down the script and organising the production of the film. This version also includes specific technical information about the visualisation of the movie, like camera angles, shot sizes, camera moves, etc.
Once the script is completed, the producer sends it to film directors to gauge their interest and find the appropriate director for his film project.
The director and the producer then decide how they want to film the movie and who they will employ to support them in achieving this result.
One common way to make the film project more commercial is to attach well-known stars to the script.
In order to turn the film into a proper business proposition, the producer must know how much the film will actually cost to be made.
Potential investors would want to know how the producer plans to raise the money and how the producer plans to pay them back.
Agents and agencies are the lifeblood of the film business. They structure the deals, they hold the keys to each and every gate and often make or break projects. Having strong relationships in this space, for a film producer, is as important as having a strong story on which to base your project.
Agency packaging refers to the fact that an agency will assist in one/all of the following: talent packaging, financing, sales and international representation. Keep in mind that agencies earn their revenue based on a 10 to 15 percent commission of their client’s fees (not only talent, but also writers, producers, directors, etc) and therefore having an agency package an entire project as opposed to having them simply have a single member of their roster involved, will go a long way.
The underlying principle to remember is that agents are looking at each opportunity as a business transaction: regardless of the project, it still boils down to a decision based on the bottom line. As such, finding the right agency (the big agencies are not always the right fit for smaller projects) and incentivising agents by offering full packaging capacities will yield the best results both financially and strategically.
Filmmaking is an expensive business, and the producer must secure enough funding to make the film at the highest possible standards.
To obtain the investment needed to make the film, the producer must travel to, and meet with, potential investors and successfully pitch his project.
The producer’s lawyer will then draw up contracts to seal financing deals between the producer and investors or financiers. Indeed, there are departments of banks that specialise in film finance and offer film production loans.
The producer can also make money from pre-sales, selling the rights to the film before it has even been made. For example, during the Cannes film festival and market 2016, motion picture and television studio STX landed the big prize by plunking down roughly USD50 million for international rights to Martin Scorsese’s next film project, ‟The Irishman”.
Once the financing is in place, the production company hires the full cast and crew and detailed preparation for the shoot begins.
A distinction is made between above-the-line personnel (such as the director, the screenwriter and the producers) who began their involvement during the film project’s development stage, and the below-the-line ‟technical” crew involved only with the production stage.
It is worth noting that, in France, most film directors do not only direct but also produce, co-produce and almost always write the screenplays for their films. Therefore, their income is made up of a salary, as director-technician, to which is added a minimum guarantee as director and another minimum guarantee as screenwriter of the film, with or without additional screenwriters.
All heads of department are hired, such as the location manager, director of photography, casting director, script supervisor, gaffer, production sound mixer, production designer, art director, set decorator, construction coordinator, property master, costume designer, key makeup artist, special effects supervisor, stunt coordinator, post-production supervisor, film editor, visual effects producer, sound designer. The shooting script is circulated to all of them as pre-production begins.
The casting director, director and producer begin to identify and cast the actors.
Storyboards are made, out of the final script. They are used as blueprints for the film where every shot is planned in advance by the director and director of photography. They have a sequence of graphic illustrations of shots visualising a video production. Most high budget films will have a very detailed storyboard. Those storyboards can really smooth out the post-production process too, when it is time for editing.
The production designer plans every aspect of how the film will look and hires people to design and build each part.
All other heads of department also go through this planning process and hiring process, for their respective department.
Effect shots are planned in much more detail than normal shots and could potentially take months to design and build.
1.7. The shoot or production
Filmmakers and producers must take a careful approach to green lighting the film project and moving forward with production, by requiring unanimous consent from producers, sales agents and board of directors of the film specially-incorporated company, before proceeding.
Shooting starts and funding is released, which is a key stage in filmmaking.
A large film production can involve hundreds of people, and it is a constant struggle to keep up with the shooting schedule and budget. Film productions are ran with strict precision. Production schedules are typically between 9 to 30 days, and you usually spend 12 to 14 hours on set, shooting from dawn to dusk. If film productions fall behind schedule, financiers and insurers may step in.
A 90 page script produced on a 24 day shooting schedule allows the director proper time on set, while keeping overall costs minimum – averaging under 4 pages per day.
The camera department is responsible for getting all the footage that the director and editor need, to tell the story.
Once lighting and sound are set up, and hair and makeup have been checked, the shoot can begin.
Every special effect is carefully constructed and must be filmed with minimum risk of injury to cast and crew.
Production is a very intense and stressful process, especially for the producers and film director.
Post production usually starts during the shoot, as soon as the first ‟rushes” – raw footage – and sound are available. As the processed footage comes in, the editor turns it into scenes and assembles it together, into a narrative sequence for the film.
The editor will read your script and storyboards, and look at the rushes, and from this information, cut the film according to their opinion of what makes the story better.
There are two ways of doing post-production:
- the old way, i.e. celluloid film way. Shoot film and edit, or splice film on film editing equipment. There are few filmmakers who edit this way today;
- the new way is the digital way. You get all your rushes digitised (if shot on film, you will need them telecined, or scanned to a digital format).
The normal schedule for editing a feature is 8 to 10 weeks. During this time, your editor will create different drafts of your film. The first is called the ‟rough cut”, and last is the ‟answer print”.
There are two conclusions to an edit, the first when you are happy with the visual images (locking picture) and the second when you are happy with the sound (sound lock).
Once the picture is ‟locked”, the sound department works on the audio track laying, creating and editing every sound.
Digital effects are added by specialist effects professionals and titles and credits are added.
The final stage of the picture edit is to adjust the colour and establish the final aesthetic of the film.
During that post-production phase, it is also usual to get:
- a digital cinema package – a hard drive which contains the final copy of your film encoded so it can play in cinemas;
- a dialogue script, so that foreign territories can dub or subtitle your film, which has the precise time code for each piece of dialogue so the subtitler or dubbing artist knows exactly where to place their dialogue;
- a campaign image (with titles and credits), which is the first thing a prospective distributor or festival programmer will see of your film and which should let the viewer know exactly what your film is about, and
- a 90 to 120 second trailer that conveys the mood and atmosphere of your film, knowing that programming and distribution decisions will be often be based on the strength of your trailer.
While the film is still in post-production, the producer will try to sell it to distributors (if he has not already sold the rights at the financing stage).
Filmmakers and producers must have a pre-sales distribution and market strategy in place, that optimises back end profitability of the film. Targeting major film markets – Cannes, Berlin, Toronto, Sundance, Tribeca, Venice and emerging South by South West – is key to a successful B-to-B marketing strategy, while the same sales agent who packaged the film oversees the final sale.
The film sales world is split up as the domestic market and international market and there are specific sales companies for both specific markets.
Producers tend to work without sales assistance on the domestic deals as it is in the best interest of the producer to form these relationships and close the deal personally, to have an open door for future projects that will need similar distribution.
To help sell the film internationally to distributors, the producer secures the services of a sales agent and markets his film by sending it to film festivals. High profile screenings at top film festivals can be great to generate ‟clout” for the film.
The trailer is used to show buyers the most marketable aspects of the film.
Distributors are fickle in many senses. The business has changed (think of the recent growth of video on demand streaming services) and international versus domestic deals are becoming challenging. Indeed, being a distributor is still a risky business: if the film is a success, distributors only earn their commissions; while if it is a failure, they lose their minimum guarantees, prints and advertising expenses (P&A). This is why the best way to be a successful distributor, nowadays, is to be also the producer, or at least co-producer because you then earn money on the much higher residuals and international rights, compared to domestic theatrical rights only.
Finding the right distributor takes time. Example of boutique distributors are HBO, IFC, Magnolia, Focus Features or Miramax for broadcast, VOD and content streaming. The search process of the most appropriate distributor for your film project, will give you practice pitching it, as well as the ability to review many different sellers to gauge style, ability and creative fit.
Just as the agencies are self-motivated, so too are sales agents (international film brokers) and distributors (buyers and exhibitors) motivated by the bottom line economics of the deal. Yes, there are buyers and sellers who specialise in content-focused for the art-house driven markets, but they are becoming fewer and fewer.
As the finishing touches are being made to the film, the distributors plan their marketing strategy to ‟sell” the movie to the public.
Knowing the audience is essential and the marketing team runs test screenings to see how the film is received.
Press kits, posters and other advertising materials are published, and the film is advertised and promoted. A b-roll clip may be released to the press, based on raw footage shot for a ‟making of” documentary, which may include making-of clips as well as on-set interviews.
Cinema expedition, also called theatrical release, is still the primary channel for films to reach their audiences.
Indeed, box office success equals financial success.
Film distributors usually release a film with a launch party, a red-carpet premiere, press releases, interviews with the press, press preview screenings, and film festival screenings.
Most films are also promoted with their own special website separate from those of the production company or distributor.
For major films, key personnel are often contractually required to participate in promotional tours in which they appear at premieres and festivals, and sit for interviews with many TV, print and online journalists.
The largest productions may require more than one promotional tour, in order to rejuvenate audience demand at each release window.
1.12. Other windows
A successful run in cinemas makes the film a sought-after product, which can be sold through other more lucrative channels such as DVDs and games.
Since the advent of home video in the early 1980s, most major films have followed a pattern of having several distinct release windows. A film may first be released to a few select cinemas (limited theatrical), or if it tests well enough, may go directly into wide release.
A popular option, to develop the domestic sales potential of a film, is to have a first phase initial release on a limited theatrical platform, paired with a joint digital download release on iTunes and Amazon – sales are driven by major market theatre visits and digital downloads in smaller markets. The second phase release via VOD and pay cablers such as HBO, Showtime and potentially Hulu – sales are then driven by word of mouth built from first phase. This is often followed by a third phase, which pairs Netflix and Amazon Prime streaming with a wide DVD release to drive streaming view and build DVD purchases. Finally, in its fourth phase, the film builds upon steady sales and word of mouth audience reception, to gain network television sales and eventual syndication. In broadcasting parlance, syndication is the licensing of the right to broadcast television programs by multiple TV stations, without going through a broadcast network.
Next, the film is released, normally at different times several weeks (or months) apart, into different market segments like rental, retail, pay-per-view, in-flight entertainment, cable, satellite, or free-to-air broadcast television. Indeed, the film may be released in cinemas or, occasionally, directly to consumer media (DVD, VCD, VHS, Blu-ray) or direct download from a digital media provider. Hospitality sales for hotel channels and in-flight entertainment can bring in millions of additional revenues.
Indeed, today, residuals, or neighbouring rights, as those additional revenues are called, bring in most of the profit for the film, not theatrical rights. Those residuals are collected by collection agents, such as Fintage House and RightBack, which adds transparency to the process of collecting revenues generated by the film.
The distributor rights for the film are usually sold for worldwide distribution.
The distributors and the production company then share profits.
As a film producer, you should ‟trust the shuffler but cut the deck”, by ensuring that you have an audit clause inserted in the distribution agreement, which will allow you to audit the accounts of the distributor in order to check that all collected revenues, from all sources, are indeed included in the residuals statements that you received from such distributor.
It is worth noting that, in at least 10 countries from the European Union, including France, Germany, Spain, Belgium, distributors of pay-TV services and/or operators of VOD services are required by law to contribute to the funding of production, either through contributions to support funds or by means of direct investments in production. The arrangements are generally complimentary to and extend tax law provisions requiring contributions from exhibitors, broadcasters and video distributors: all distribution activities must contribute to the funding of production.
2. How do you finance a film nowadays?
First things first: have you made a business plan? Creating a business plan is almost as important as finding a terrific script. You need to prepare a plan of attack to get the money to shoot your film. Indeed, as a producer or filmmaker, you need to make creating a viable and realistic business plan your first priority. Many filmmakers create an outline business plan first, and then find a script that matches what they think they can raise.
2.1. The studio model
The strategy, here, is to get 3 to 5 films together of a similar genre, and approach investors with a slate of similar films. If one of these films is successful, it will pay off for itself and the other 2 to 4 other film projects on the slate.
While this strategy consisting in hedging your risks by having more than one egg in your basket sounds great, a reality check is necessary: do you really think that you can get more than one project together? You may want to collaborate with some like-minded filmmakers with similar projects.
2.2. Government funding
Many nations now have attractive tax and investment incentives for filmmakers. Individual state and country legislation unable producers to subsidise spent costs for production.
For example, Europe’s MEDIA programme has twenty-odd programmes for media and filmmakers. You need to apply for the funding and lobby decisions makers until you get your soft money.
Many European filmmakers design a business plan around the rules and regulations surrounding the MEDIA money. The same applies for soft money from other countries as well.
Another example is the UK government, which pumps tens of millions of pound sterling into British film every year (using National Lottery funds!). Following the heavily criticised demise of the UK Film Council, UK public money is now distributed by the British Film Institute (‟BFI”). Film London has also put in place a Production Finance Market (‟PFM”), its annual two-day film financing event, run in association with the BFI London Film Festival. PFM encourages new business relationships, between UK filmmakers, producers and investors, attaching international sales companies and securing various forms of investments in companies and film projects.
As soft public money funds are always heavily oversubscribed and lobbied for by competing filmmakers and producers, you should not be over-reliant on getting government funding. In addition, those funds will impose restrictions, that could easily compromise your creative integrity.
Hard cash investments made to your film project by a single investor, a group of investors and personal investments from colleagues, friends and family.
Equity investments require that investors own a stake in the film (i.e. the operating structure, special purpose vehicle incorporated for that particular film project). They also must be paid back (typically on their principal investment plus 20 percent) before profit is seen on the side of the filmmakers and producers.
2.4. Tax finance
It’s all about de-risking your film package.
Through its Enterprise Investment Scheme (‟EIS”) and Small Enterprise Investment Scheme (‟SEIS”), the UK government has created one of the world’s best environments for de-leveraging the risk of investments made in small businesses up to 98 percent (depending on the investors profile). EIS is designed to support smaller higher-risk trading companies to raise finance by offering a range of tax reliefs to investors who purchase new shares in those companies.
Film projects are qualifying business for EIS and SEIS, however we heard that the European Commission has audited the UK EIS and SEIS schemes and only wants long-term UK small businesses to benefit from such schemes, ruling out special purpose vehicles incorporated for each film project. With a Brexit in the works though, it is likely that EIS and SEIS will still be used to finance UK film projects, in the future.
To get all EIS or SEIS up and running, you need to get a strong business plan together with a budget and schedule. Fill in a few online tax forms and get your UK limited company registered for EIS. If you get stuck, phone a really nice lady in Wales who will make sure your secure the paperwork.
While investing in a film is seen as ‟sexy” by many private investors, the recent economic downturn, Brexit and the competitiveness of securing EIS and SEIS among filmmakers and producers, make investors shy and cautious. It may be worth speaking to UK film financiers, such as the Fyzz Facility (now merged with Tea Shop), who have a pool of private investors who are ready to invest, via gap funding (as this term is defined below in paragraph 2.6 (Gap financing)), through EIS and SEIS.
In France, ‟Sociétés de financement de l’industrie cinématographique et de l’audiovisuel” (‟SOFICAS”) are the equivalent tax-wrappers to EIS and SEIS. They are equity funds financed with tax-related money and are allowed to invest in both films and TV productions, on a selective basis. Their money comes from banks which are allowed to collect, from French tax resident private investors who want to pay less income tax in France. As SOFICAS want their money back, they tend to do mostly gap funding (as this term is defined below at paragraph 2.6), providing producers with the last (and most expensive) money. SOFICAS generally stand behind the distributors in the recoupment order. Only part of the SOFICAS money is invested in independent film productions. Each SOFICA can invest 20 percent of its money in foreign-speaking (qualified) co-productions, as long as the film’s language matches the foreign co-producer’s country’s language. In 2015, SOFICAS invested Euros37 million in 112 movies, 11 of which were majority foreign co-productions, mostly from British or Belgian producers. A top manager of SOFICAS for the media and entertainment sector in France, is Back-up Media.
Tax incentives require a producer to hire a certain number of local crew employees, rent from local vendors and run payroll through local services. Tax credits are based on an application process and are often lengthy (12 to 18 months) and difficult (as they may involve a substantial amount of tedious paperwork) to procure.
For example, UK film tax relief ensures that, for film spending GBP20 million or less, production companies can claim a cash rebate of up to 25 percent of qualifying expenditure. For films spending more than GBP20 million, production companies can claim a cash rebate of up to 20 percent of qualifying expenditure. The UK film tax relief is largely responsible for the recent influx of international blockbuster movies into the UK: ‟Star Wars: the force awakens” (LucasFilm), ‟Avengers: age of Ultron” (Marvel Studios) and the latest James Bond film ‟Spectre” (EON) have all been shot in the UK, mostly out of Pinewood Studios.
In France, the Tax Rebate for International Productions (‟TRIP”) concerns projects wholly or partly made in France and initiated by a non-French film production company. It it selectively granted by the French national centre for cinema (‟CNC”) to a French production services company. TRIP amount up to 30 percent of the qualifying expenditures incurred in France: it can total a maximum of Euros30 million per project. The French government refunds the applicant company, which must have its registered office in France. ‟Thor” (Marvel Studios), ‟Despicable Me” and ‟The Minions” (Universal Animation Studios) and ‟Inception” (Warner Bros) have benefited from TRIP.
For French film productions, the ‟Crédit d’impôt cinéma et audiovisuel” (‟CICA”) benefits French producers for expenses incurred in France for the production of films or TV programmes. The CICA tax credit is equal to 20 percent of eligible expenses – increased to 30 percent for films for which the production budget is less than Euros4 million.
Certain tax credits are sellable, transferable and even trade-able based on the local legislation. US states such as New Mexico, North Carolina, Georgia, New York and Michigan offer the strongest solutions here.
It is really worth for film producers to organise a “competition” between various countries and territories as well, based on available tax rebates and government funding, before deciding in which country to produce and post-produce a film. Indeed, the UK and France are always in rivalry, Film France CEO Valerie Lepine-Karnik noting that ‟last year (in 2014), American blockbusters spent more than Euros1.6 billion in the UK, which is half a million more than the total amount of money invested in French domestic film production in 2014”.
2.5. Pre sales and co-productions
The strategy, here, is to sell your film cheap up front (pre-sales) and hook up with producers in other countries to secure soft public money in other territories. Indeed, by co-producing, you can take advantage of soft money otherwise not normally accessible to your film production.
Pre-sales agreements are pre-arranged and executed contracts made with distributors before the film is produced. These agreements are based on the strength of the project’s marketability and sales potential in each given territory. A distributor will generate a value for your film project, given the script, the attached talent and crew, as well as the marketing approach, and then enable you to take out a bank loan using the pre-sales deal as collateral. Pre-sales can also result in direct payment (at a discounted rate) from the buyer themselves. Pre-sales investments require that the producer pay back the bank its loaned capital before profiting on their respective upside.
Both the UK and France have bilateral co-production treaties in place with certain countries such as:
- Australia, Canada, China, India, Israel, France, Jamaica, Morocco, New Zealand, Occupied Palestinian Territories and South Africa, for the UK;
- and Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Guinea, Holland, Hungary, Iceland, India, Israel, Italy, Ivory Coast, South-Korea, Lebanon, Luxemburg, Morocco, Mexico, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, Palestinian Territories, Romania, Russia, Senegal, Serbia, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Venezuela, for France.
For example, Ken Loach’s films, mainly produced in the UK, benefit from French funds through French production company Why Not since ‟Looking for Eric” in 2009. ‟Mr Turner” by Mike Leigh was co-produced by Diaphana.
Moreover, the European Convention on cinematographic co-productions applies for now, in both countries, although this will cease to be the case for the UK after Brexit.
While co-production can work, it can be difficult to set up co-productions and you will now have financial partners in various territories who will probably all want to exercise creative control. Also, you, the producer, will have to share any revenues generated by your film not only with the distributors, but also with your co-producers scattered in various countries.
2.6. Gap financing
With partial equity raised, you are then able to procure a loan from a bank or a private lender on the unsold territories of the film (and additional elements of collateral, such as the intellectual property or corporate guarantees).
Gap financing is only available when other elements have been assembled and there is adequate security for the investor to ‟bridge” against.
2.7. Product placement
The strategy is to team up with brands and get cash for including their products on set.
For example, Heineken reportedly paid a third of ‟Skyfall” ‘s USD150 million budget to turn Daniel Craig’s James Bond into a lager drinker!
Not only do you get some of your film funding through product placement, but the product exposure the brand enjoys may have a far greater value than the cost of the product placement and is generally seen to be cheaper than comparative advertising on TV or print.
However, having a product placement in a film means that you will always be under the scrutiny of brand managers, which may hamper the film creative process. Moreover, few independent filmmakers have the polling power of James Bond! Brands will always want to know what the marketing strategy of your film is, before they invest in, or even allow their products to be used.
Crowdfunding (Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, Ulule, Kiss Kiss Bank Bank, etc.) is now a serious contender to raising finance for your film projects. It enables a contributions-based model for capital to be raised without selling equity.
For example, the ‟Veronica Mars” Movie project and Spike Lee’s latest film project ‟Da sweet blood of Jesus”, were all financed through Kickstarter in 2013. Spike Lee raised USD1.4 million for his horror flick on contemporary vampires, not a negligible amount by any means.
The strategy is that you get some rewards (such as DVDs, t-shirts, sharing dinner with the famous film director) together and offer them to friends, family and fools, as well as to the crowd, hoping to entice them into making a contribution to your film project. The idea, here, is to build a community who adheres to your story.
Even the studio biggies are using crowdfunding nowadays: Charlie Kaufman, an American screenwriter, producer, director famous for writing ‟Being John Malkovich” and ‟Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind”, raised over USD400,000 for his new project Anomalisa.
This is crowding the pitch and makes it even tougher to get enough noise directed your way. Therefore, you need a really good business plan in order to successfully approach crowdfunding.
The strategy is to get everybody to work and be paid later, out of profits if any. Indeed, producers are able to avoid nearly all costs on a project if they are able to negotiate a deferred deal.
Convince everyone that in order to get the film made now, you cannot wait for investment. In exchange, you offer up a percentage of the share of profit, meaning that everyone’s salary could potentially increase depending on the success of the film.
Deferred agreements basically state that crew, cast, vendors, locations and services are all rendered upfront at no cost, until the film generates money upon release.
Deferrals may work but are reliant on the trust the producer has with his team. Often, deferrees are unpaid, even though the film goes on to commercial success. There is also the temptation to overstate the value of the deferment which can lead to bitter arguments if the box office returns do not meet expectations. Moreover, deferred financing is difficult because experienced cast and crew are unwilling to work under these types of structures.
2.10. Self-financed film projects
Self-financed movies mean you do not have to deal with investors. It also does mean that you have to be very careful with the money, which is yours.
For example, Tangerine’s director, Sean Baker, shot his feature film entirely on 2 iPhones and went on to become one of the most hyped film directors in 2015, as Tangerine was reviewed by many critics as one the the best films of 2015. In an interview with Bret Easton Ellis in 2015, 45 years old Sean Baker confessed to still be heavily in debt and reliant on the goodwill and empathy of his parents, to make ends meet.
While getting your film done immediately with your own resources is an enticing prospect and very achievable in today’s digital world, it is worth noting that most of these thousands of self-financed movies fail, mostly due to the fact that their scripts are not good enough. By going the self-financed indie route, filmmakers have side stepped the development cycle and no one has told them that their script sucks.
3. How do you make your film project stand out to financiers?
As mentioned in our introduction, it is tough to get films financed in today’s market. Of course, a strong script, a great team with experience and a game plan for success are prerequisites, but that’s not enough. The key factor to equity investors and debt lenders, is to remove risk, financial exposure and speculation – meaning, when are they going to start earning a return or their money back, and can you guarantee that? The more risk and speculation you remove, by utilising the steps below, the better chance you will have of securing capital in “hard money”.
As mentioned above in paragraph 1.4. (Packaging) above, talent agencies are a difficult nut to crack. They are well-guarded, highly established and protected entities. They are the gatekeepers of taste, talent and possibility – and more than anything they are the lifeblood of the independent producer seeking to put projects together with financing.
Once you have a suitable piece of material, get an agent/agency excited about the project as well. The way forward is approaching the major five talent agencies – William Morris Endeavor, United Talent Agency, Creative Artists Agency, The Gersh Agency and International Creative Management – for the packaging of quality source material – script, paired with proven name talent – actors and directors, under the representation of a successful in-house sales agent.
As with most of the entertainment business, agents think in numbers – how much will my firm/I make from this deal? Incentivize the agency by offering them the ability to package the project – place multiple roles with their roster rather than just one or two roles – which gives them the ability to earn 10 to 15 percent of multiple deals across the board.
Furthermore, offer them the ability to have a first look opportunity for domestic sales representation – again, finding ways to incentivise. By packaging these elements early on, you will be able to bring strong talent to the project and gear up to be more ready to approach equity players.
3.2. Strength of team and experience
A first time producer/director/star is a tough sell for many in the film business. Sales teams are unable to project value (pre-sell), agents are unable to place large name talent (packaging) and financiers are unable to gauge project return on investment (‟ROI”).
Therefore, your best bet is to find a director who has carried a project before, find an agency who is interested in packaging and will keep you/your project in the stratosphere of content that matters and you will be in a great starting position.
The team must bring a wealth of knowledge, experience and relationships to the production phase, in order to properly execute feature film’s full production schedule. All the while, the producers and filmmaker must mindfully nurture the creative necessity, without neglecting the overall commercial nature of the film’s back end.
If you have to utilise unknown talents to make your project, then surround them with experience on all fronts. An unknown star with a strong director, director of photography, producer and writer is a reasonable recipe.
3.3. Soft money options
With your packaged talent signed on, a strong team on board, and a well-developed script, you can now approach ‟soft money” options, i.e. tax incentives/pre-sales/debt financings.
Tax incentives offer a percentage of the in-state or in-country spend back in rebate form. This means that you can bankroll/cash-flow this piece of financing to offset your investors’ risk.
Pre-sales offer projections of value based on the elements you have brought together. This, in turn, also implies that you can bankroll/cash-flow this piece of financing to offset your investors’ risk.
The same goes for debt options.
As a filmmaker or producer, you need to find ways to cover 50 cent or pence of every euro or pound your investor is putting up before the cameras even turn on.
Shoot in tax incentive rich states, with a strong pre-sold package, and with a great sales team onboard to execute. You can then reduce the level of speculation and guarantee a return of X percent, based on Y investment in a tangible timeline.
3.4. Plan of execution
With these elements onboard, make your investment proposal personable, professional and tailored to your investors specifics. Do not pitch high level equity film financing to first-time entertainment investors. Keep it simple, honest, and remind equity investors that while smoke and mirrors often run throughout the business, you are putting together a basic structure returning X percent on Y investment over Z timeline.
Lastly, look into completion/guarantor insurance guarantees, as a way to assure your equity investors that the project will be completed on time, schedule and budget, and with the elements they have agreed to finance. The liability is now removed via an insurance company and investors’ return is partially guaranteed via tax incentives and additional soft-money.
Pitch smart, often and confidently knowing that you have done your homework and that the investment is well-structured for a return.
What are Brexit legal implications that creative industries need to know about? On 23 June 2016, during an epic day of flooding in London and South East England, which did not deter a record 72.2 percent of voters to turn out, the United Kingdom (‟UK”) decided to terminate its 43-year membership with the European Union (‟EU”).
Now, the UK – or possibly, only England and Wales if Northern Ireland and Scotland successfully each hold a referendum to stay in the EU in the near future – will join the ranks of the nine other European countries which are not part of the EU, i.e. Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Albania, Switzerland, Turkey, Russia, Macedonia and Montenegro. Of these, two countries, Russia and Turkey, straddle Europe and Asia.
What are the short-term and long-term consequences, from a legal and business standpoint, for the creative industries based in the UK or in commercial relationships with UK creatives?
The two main treaties of the European Union, which are a set of international treaties between the EU member states and which set out the EU’s constitutional basis, are the Treaty on European Union (‟TEU”, signed in Maastricht in 1992) and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (‟TFEU”, signed in Rome in 1958 to establish the European Economic Community).
The TFEU in particular sets out some important policies which guide the EU, such as:
- citizenship of the EU;
- the internal market;
- free movement of people, services and capital;
- free movement of goods, including the customs union;
- area of freedom, justice and security, including police and justice co-operation;
- economic and monetary policy, and
- EU foreign policy, etc.
How is the ending of those policies, in the UK, going to change and affect UK creative professionals and companies, as well as foreign citizens and companies doing business in the UK? What will be Brexit legal implications?
1. Brexit legal implications: removal of EU citizenship for UK citizens and of freedom of movement of people coming in and out of the UK
Citizenship of the EU was introduced by the TEU and has been in force since 1993.
EU citizenship is subsidiary to national citizenship and affords rights such as the right to vote in European elections, the right to free movement, settlement and employment across the EU, and the right to consular protection by other EU states’ embassies when a person’s country of citizenship does not maintain an embassy or a consulate in the country in which they require protection.
By voting out of the EU, England and Wales, also known under the name ‟Little Britain”, have made it difficult for EU citizens to come to the UK, as a visa or work permit may be required in the future, depending on the agreement that the UK will strike with the EU. However, it will also be much more difficult for UK citizens to travel to EU member states, for work, studies or leisure.
Probably, the majority of people in the UK who voted out of the EU do not travel much out of the UK, either for work or leisure, so there was definitely a class battle going on there, during that Brexit referendum, as high flyers and Londoners (who have to be quite wealthy to live in such an expensive city) wanted to remain in the EU, while the working class population and English & Welsh regions were firmly on the Leave side. That’s democracy for you: one individual, one vote and the majority of votes always has the upper hand!
If we look at the example set by some of the other nine European states which are not part of the EU, we see that several options are available. Although Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein are not members of the EU, they have bilateral agreements with the EU that allow their citizens to live and work in EU-member countries without work permits, and vice versa. Switzerland has a similar bilateral agreement, though its agreement is slightly more limited. At the other end of the spectrum, the decision about whether to permit Turkish citizens to live and work within member countries of the EU is left to the individual member nations, and vice versa.
So what’s it going to be like, for the UK? What are Brexit legal implications for the UK?
Time will tell but as we now know that David Cameron, a relatively ‟mild” member of the conservative party, will step down as the UK prime minister in October 2016, we are under the impression that his leadership will be replaced with an atypical and highly-strung right-wing and nationalistic team, probably led by hard-core conservatives such as Boris Johnson. Mr Johnson not being renowned for his subtlety and impeccable political flair, we think that negotiations for new bilateral agreements between the UK and EU as well as non-EU countries will be a difficult, protracted and ego-tripped process which may take years to finalise.
The UK will try to reduce immigration from the EU, probably with a points-based system such as the one in place in Australia. It means giving priority to high-skilled workers and blocking entry to low-skilled ones. But first, the UK will have to clarify the status of the nearly 2.2 million EU workers living in the UK. The rules for family reunions may get tougher. Also, 2 million UK nationals also live abroad in EU countries – so any British measures targeting EU workers could trigger retaliation against UK nationals abroad.
This, of course, may have an extremely negative impact on the freedom of movement of people, in and out of the UK, which may have a catastrophic impact on trade, human rights and political relationships with other states, for the UK.
Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, another treaty from the set of international treaties between the EU member states and which sets out the EU’s constitutional basis, relates to the rules for exit from the EU and provides that:
‟1. Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the EU in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.
2. A Member State which decides to withdraw shall notify the European Council of its intention. In the light of the guidelines provided by the European Council, the EU shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the EU. That agreement shall be negotiated in accordance with Article 218(3) of the TFEU. It shall be concluded on behalf of the EU by the Council, acting by a qualified majority, after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament.
3. The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification referred to in paragraph 2, unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period.
4. For the purposes of paragraphs 2 and 3, the member of the European Council or of the Council representing the withdrawing Member State shall not participate in the discussions of the European Council or Council or in decisions concerning it. A qualified majority shall be defined in accordance with Article 238(3)(b) of the TFEU.
5. If a State which has withdrawn from the EU asks to rejoin, its request shall be subject to the procedure referred to in Article 49”.
Therefore, the UK nows needs to notify its intention to withdraw from the EU to the European Council. We understand that such notification will be handed over by the new prime minister in the UK, therefore after October 2016.
The UK will have, at the latest, a period of two years from such notification date to negotiate and conclude with the EU an agreement setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking out of the framework for its future relationship with the EU. After this period of two years or, if earlier, the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement, the EU Treaties will cease to apply to the UK.
Let’s hope that the new UK government will have the ability and gravitas to strike a withdrawal agreement with the EU, in particular in relation to free movement of people coming in and out of the UK, which will be balanced and ensure fluid and constructive relationships with its fellow neighbours and main import partners.
Companies which have – or plan to have – employees in the UK, or which staff often travels to the UK for business reasons, should monitor the negotiation of the bilateral agreements relating to the freedom of movement of people, between the UK and EU member-states, as well as non-EU countries, very closely, as costs, energy and time to secure visas and work permits could become a significant burden to doing business in and with the UK, in the next two years.
2. Removal of free movement of goods, services and capital?
The EU’s internal market, or single market, is a single market that seeks to guarantee the free movement of goods, capital, services and people – the ‟four freedoms” – between the EU’s 28 member states.
The internal market is intended to be conducive to increased competition, increased specialisation, larger economies of scale, allowing goods and factors of production to move to the area where they are most valued, thus improving the efficiency of the allocation of resources.
It is also intended to drive economic integration whereby the once separate economies of the member states become integrated within a single EU wide economy. Half of the trade in goods within the EU is covered by legislation harmonised by the EU.
Clearly, the internal market and its wider repercussions have gone totally over the head of Little Britain, who wiped out 43 years of hard-won progress towards economic integration in 12 hours on 23 June 2016! ‟Put Britain first”, which was what the mentally ill racist and right-wing extremist shouted when he murdered Jo Cox, a Labour politician and campaigner for the rights of refugees, a week and a half ago, summarises what Little Britain had in mind, when they voted out of the EU.
Having said that, it is possible that the internal market remains in place, between the UK and the EU, as such market has been extended to Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway through the agreement on the European Economic Area (‟EEA”) and to Switzerland through bilateral treaties.
Indeed, the EEA is the area in which the agreement on the EEA provides for the free movement of persons, goods, services and capital within the internal market of the EU. The EEA was established on 1 January 1994 upon entry into force of the EEA Agreement.
The EEA Agreement specifies that membership is open to member states of either the EU or European Free Trade Association (‟EFTA”). EFTA states, i.e. Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, which are party to the EEA Agreement participate in the EU’s internal market. One EFTA state, Switzerland, has not joined the EEA, but has a series of bilateral agreements with the EU which allow it to participate in the internal market. The EEA Agreement in respect of these states, and the EU-Swiss treaties have exceptions, notably on agriculture and fisheries.
2.1. Free movement of goods?
Thanks to the internal market, there is a guarantee to free movement of goods.
If the UK decides, during its withdrawal negotiations with the EU, to become a party to the EEA Agreement, then such freedom of movement of goods will be guaranteed.
If the UK decides, during its withdrawal negotiations with the EU, to put in place a series of bilateral agreements with the EU, then such freedom of movement of goods may be guaranteed.
Otherwise, there will be no freedom of movement of goods, between the UK and the EU, and non-EU countries, which would be an extremely perilous commercial situation for the UK. The EU is also a customs union. This means that member-states have removed customs barriers between themselves and introduced a common customs policy towards other countries. The overall purpose of the duties is ‟to ensure normal conditions of competition and to remove all restrictions of a fiscal nature capable of hindering the free movement of goods within the Common Market”.
Article 30 TFEU prohibits EU member-states from levying any duties on goods crossing a border, both goods produced within the EU and those produced outside. Once a good has been imported into the EU from a third country and the appropriate customs duty paid, Article 29 TFEU dictates that it shall then be considered to be in free circulation between the EU member-states.
Neither the purpose of the charge, nor its name in domestic law, is relevant.
Since the Single European Act, there can be no systematic customs controls at the borders of EU member-states. The emphasis is on post-import audit controls and risk analysis. Physical controls of imports and exports now occur at traders’ premises, rather than at the territorial borders.
Again, if the UK becomes a party to the EEA Agreement, or signs appropriate bilateral agreements with the EU and other countries party to the internal market, customs duties will be prohibited between the UK, the EU, the EEA states and Switzerland. Otherwise, customs duties will be reinstated between the UK and all other European countries, including the EU, which would be again a very disadvantageous situation for UK businesses as the cost of trading goods with foreign countries will substantially increase.
The same goes for taxation of goods and products which will be reinstated if the UK does not manage to become a party to the EEA Agreement or to sign appropriate bilateral agreements with the EU.
This is going to become a major headache for the UK’s new leadership: goods exports of the EU, not including the UK, to the rest of the world, including the UK, are about Euros1,800 billion; to the UK, about Euros295 billion, or a little under 16 percent. So, in 2015, the UK accounted for 16 percent of the EU’s exports, while the US and China accounted for 15 percent and 8 percent respectively.
The UK would, indeed, become the EU’s single largest trading partner for trade in goods. However, this would probably not be the case for trade overall. Including services would probably reduce the UK’s share somewhat (the EU ex UK exports over Euros600 billion in services, while the UK imports only about Euros40-45 billion in services from the rest of the EU). Moreover, the US will very probably overtake the UK as the EU ex UK’s largest single export market.
What does this tell us about the UK’s bargaining power with the EU after a Brexit?
It certainly confirms that the UK would become one of the EU’s largest export markets, even if not necessarily the largest. But the UK would still be far less important to the EU than they are to the UK – the EU still takes about 45 percent of UK’s exports, down from 55 percent at the turn of the century. And, if you treat the EU as one country, as this analysis does, ‟exports” become considerably less important overall (intra-EU trade is far more important to almost all EU countries). Indeed, as this Eurostat table shows, only for Ireland and Cyprus does the UK represent more than 10 percent of total (including intra-EU) exports.
So how important will exporting to the UK be to the EU economy after Brexit? EU exports to the UK would represent about 3 percent of EU GDP; not negligible by any means, but equally perhaps not as dramatic as one might think. The EU, and even more so the UK, would certainly have a strong incentive to negotiate a sensible trading arrangement post-Brexit. But no-one should imagine the UK holds all the cards here.
Bearing in mind that the EEA Agreement and EU-Swiss bilateral agreements are both viewed by most as very asymmetric (Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein are essentially obliged to accept the internal single market rules without having much if any say in what they are, while Switzerland does not have full or automatic access but still has free movement of workers), we strongly doubt that currently feisty UK and its dubious future leadership (wasn’t Boris Johnson lambasted for being a womanising buffoon by both the press and members of the public until recently?) are cut from the right cloth to pull off a constructive, seamless and peaceful exit from the EU.
Creative companies headquartered in the UK, which export goods and products, such as fashion and design companies, should monitor the UK negotiations of the withdrawal agreement with the EU extremely closely and, if need be, relocate their operations to the EU within the next 2 years, should new customs duties and taxation of goods and products become inevitable, due to a lack of successful negotiations with the EU.
The alternative would be to face high prices both inside the UK (as UK retailers and end-consumers will have to pay customs duties and taxes on all imported products) and while exporting from the UK (as buyers of UK manufacturers’ goods will have to pay customs duties and taxes on all exported products). Moreover, the UK will face non-tariff barriers, in the same way that China and the US trade with the EU. UK services – accounting for eighty percent of the UK economy – would lose their preferential access to the EU single market.
While an inevitably weaker pound sterling may set off some of the financial burden represented by these customs duties and taxes, it may still very much be necessary to relocate operations to another country member of the EU or EEA, to balance out the effect of the Brexit, and its aftermath, for creative businesses which produce goods and products and export the vast majority of their productions.
Fashion and luxury businesses, in particular, are at risk, since they export more than seventy percent of their production overseas. Analysts think that the most important consequence of Brexit is ‟a dent to global GDP prospects and damage to confidence. This is likely to develop on the back of downward asset markets adjustments. Hence, more than ever, the fashion industry will have to work on moderating costs and capital expenditures”.
2.2. Free movement of services and capital?
The free movement of services and of establishment allows self-employed persons to move between member-states in order to provide services on a temporary or permanent basis. While services account for between sixty and seventy percent of GDP, legislation in the area is not as developed as in other areas.
There are no customs duties and taxation on services therefore UK creative industries which mainly provide services (such as the tech and internet sector, marketing, PR and communication services, etc) are less at risk of being detrimentally impacted by the potentially disastrous effects of unsuccessful negotiations between the EU and the UK, during the withdrawal period.
Free movement of capital is intended to permit movement of investments such as property purchases and buying of shares between countries. Capital within the EU may be transferred in any amount from one country to another (except that Greece currently has capital controls restricting outflows) and all intra-EU transfers in euro are considered as domestic payments and bear the corresponding domestic transfer costs. This includes all member-states of the EU, even those outside the eurozone, provided the transactions are carried out in euro. Credit/debit card charging and ATM withdrawals within the Eurozone are also charged as domestic.
Since the UK has always kept the pound sterling during its 43 years’ stint in the EU, absolutely refusing to ditch it for the euro, transfer costs on capital movements – from euros to pound sterling and vice versa – have always been fairly high in the UK anyway.
Should the withdrawal negotiations between the EU and the UK not be successful, in the next two years, it is possible that such transfer costs, as well as some new controls on capital movements, be put in place when creative businesses and professionals want to transfer money across European territories.
It is advisable for creative companies to open business bank accounts, in euros, in strategic EU countries for them, in order to avoid being narrowly limited to their UK pound sterling denominated bank accounts and being tributary to the whims of politicians and bureaucrats attempting to negotiate new trade agreements on freedom of capital movements between the UK and the EU.
To conclude, our law firm Crefovi think that it is going to be difficult for creative businesses to do fruitful and high growth business in the UK and from the UK for at least the next two years, as UK politicians and bureaucrats now have to not only negotiate their way out of the EU through a withdrawal agreement, but also to negotiate bilateral free trade deals that the EU negotiated on behalf of its 28 member-states with 53 countries, including Canada, Singapore, South Korea. Moreover, it would require highly-skilled, seasoned, non-emotional and consensual UK leadership to pull off successful trade negotiations with the EU and, in view of the populist campaign lead by a now victorious significant majority of conservative politicians in the UK up to Brexit, we think that such exceptional and innovative UK leaders are either not yet identified or not in existence, at this point in time. The pains and travails of the UK economy may last far longer than just two years and, for now, there is no foreseeable light at the end of the tunnel that all this fuss will be worth it, from a business and trade standpoint. Did Little Britain think about all that, when it went out to vote on 23 June 2016? We certainly do not think so.
London fashion law firm Crefovi is recommended as a top expert in the industrial sector luxury & fashion by the guide Chambers & Partners: we reached another milestone! Crefovi ranked luxury goods expert by Chambers.
On 28 April 2015, Chambers & Partners issued its ranking of the top law firms specialised in the luxury goods sector: London fashion law firm Crefovi came out on top! Indeed, Crefovi is ranked luxury goods expert by Chambers
The team of Crefovi is described in Chambers & Partners’ 2015 Europe guide as being known as a ‟dedicated fashion law and luxury goods boutique, with a large portfolio of cross-border work supported by offices in Paris and London. Expertise in IP, commercial contracts and tax advice. Varied client roster includes fashion brands and agents, as well as crowdfunding platforms in the industry”.
One of our clients’ quotes is mentioned, as well, in Chambers & Partners’ 2015 Europe guide, as follows: ‟The firm’s key strength is its fashion market experience and familiarity with key issues in Europe for new brands entering the market”.
Crefovi’s founding and managing partner, Annabelle Gauberti, is mentioned as the key contact for the firm. She has acquired extensive knowledge and experience in the legal field, as it applies to the fashion and luxury industries, either in litigation related or non-litigation related matters. She is delighted that Crefovi’s legal and sectoral expertise, as well as the quality of the services provided by our fashion law firm, are recognised as being outstanding.
Crefovi is ranked by Chambers & Partners as an expert in the luxury goods sector, along with other prestigious and well-established law firms, such as DLA Piper, Hogan Lovells, Dentons, August & Debouzy and Jones Day.
Crefovi has an ambitious programme of seminars, entitled the ‟law of fashion and luxury goods series” which it is rolling out from 2014 to 2016, in partnership with the international association of lawyers for the creative industries (ialci), which it sponsors.
The third seminar to this programme of the law of fashion and luxury goods series is going to be announced soon, so stay tuned to snap up your attendance ticket to this high-profile event for the fashion and luxury industries, to be hosted in London.