Cancel culture: how the creative industries should ride the storm

Cancel culture is upon us. This is what we are currently being told by British and French mass media, who have finally caught up with the content of the latest, and first non-fictional, book ever published by acclaimed, yet heavily criticised, American author Bret Easton Ellis, ‟White”. The polemic rages on both sides of the pond, ignited by more than 150 public figures signing a controversial letter denouncing cancel culture. So, what’s going on? What is ‟cancel culture”? Why should you pay attention to, and be cautious about it, as a creative professional? Is this even a thing in Europe and, in particular, in France and the United Kingdom? If so, how should you position yourself, as a creative, on, and about, cancel culture?

Cancel culture1. What is it? Where does it come from?

Following the 1990s’ culture wars, which sprung up in the United States of America as a way of denouncing and forbidding contemporary art exhibitions and other medium of creative expression judged by those instigating such culture wars as indecent and obscene, ‟cancel culture” has taken off in the early 2000s on social media, and has since become a cultural phenomenon in the USA and Canada – especially in the last five years or so – pervading every aspect of Northern America’s mass media.

‟Cancel culture” refers to the popular desire, and practice, of withdrawing support for (i.e. cancelling) public figures, communities or corporations, after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive. ‟Cancel culture” is generally performed on social media, in the form of group online shaming.

Therefore, as a result of something said or done, which triggered negative reactions and emotions such as anger, disgust, annoyance and hate from some members of the public, a natural person or legal entity or group of natural persons ends up being publicly shamed and humiliated, on internet, via social media platforms (such as Twitter, Facebook and instagram) and/or more localised media (such as email groups). Online shaming takes many forms, including call-outs, cancellation or cancel culture, doxing, negative reviews, and revenge porn.

While the culture wars of the 1990s were driven by right-wing religious and conservative individuals in the US (triggered by ‟hot-button” defining issues such as abortion, gun politics, separation of church and state, privacy, recreational drug use, homosexuality), the cancel culture of our 21st century is actually a left-leaning supposedly ‟progressive” identity movement which has taken hold in recent years due to the conversations prompted by #MeToo and other movements that demand greater accountability from public figures. According to the website Merriam-Webster, ‟the term has been credited to black users of Twitter, where it has been used as a hashtag. As troubling information comes to light regarding celebrities who were once popular, such as Bill Cosby, Michael Jackson, Roseanne Barr and Louis C.K. – so come calls to cancel such figures”.

Yep. Check out your Twitter feed by typing in the search bar the hashtags #cancelled, #cancel or #cancel[then name of the individual, company, organisation you think might be cancelled], and you will be able to review the top current cancellation campaigns and movements launched against Netflix, British actress Millie Bobby Brown, twitter user @GoatPancakes_, etc.

So under the guise of defending laudable causes such as the recognition of the LGBTQ community and fighting against racism, sexism, sexual assault, homophobia, transphobia, etc., some communities of online righteous vigilante use violent methods, such as cancellation, in order to administer a virtual punishment to those who are on their radar.

This call-out and cancel culture is becoming so pervasive and effective that people lose their jobs over a tweet, some upsetting jokes or inappropriate remarks.

The Roseanne Barr’s story is the ultimate cancellation example, since her ABC show, ‟Roseanne”, was terminated with immediate effect, after Ms Barr posted a tweet about Valerie Jarrett, an African-American woman who was a senior advisor to Barack Obama throughout his presidency and considered one of his most influential aides. R. Barr wrote, in her litigious tweet, if the ‟muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby = vj”. Whilst Ms Barr’s remark was undoubtedly in extreme bad taste, it is fair to ask whether her tweet – which could have easily been deleted from Twitter to remove such kick well below the belt dealt to Ms Jarrett – justified wrecking Ms Barr’s long-lasting entertainment and broadcasting career in one instant, permanently and for eternity.

To conclude, social media channels have become the platforms of virtual trials, where justice (i.e. cancellation) is administered in an expeditious manner, with no possibility of dialogue, forgiveness and/or statute of limitation. This arbitrary mass justice movement is not only cruel, but tends to put everything under the same umbrella, indiscriminately: so a person who cracked a sexist joke on Twitter would become vilified and even ‟cancelled”, in the same manner than an individual effectively sentenced for sexual assault by an actual court of justice.

How did we get to this point? Why does a growing number of Northern Americans feel the uncontrollable need to call-out, cancel and violently pillory some of their public figures, corporations and communities?

A pertinent analysis, although skewed by a European perspective, is that made by French sociologist Nathalie Heinich in French newspaper Le Monde and explained on the podcast ‟Histoire d’Amériques”, dedicated to Bret Easton Ellis’ ‟White”.

According to Ms Heinich, there is no legal limitation to freedom of speech – a personal liberty which is enshrined in the first amendment to the US constitution, in the USA. As a consequence, the US congress cannot adopt laws which may limit or curb freedom of expression, as is set out in this first amendment. Therefore, according to N. Heinich, since the US authorities cannot forbid speech and freedom of expression, it is down to US citizens to take on the role of vigilante and organise spectacular information and public campaigns, in order to request the prohibition of such expression and such speech.

This analysis made by this French sociologist needs to be nuanced: whilst it is true that no US statute or law may curtail freedom of speech in the USA, there is consistent and ample body of case law and common law, which rule on the categories of speech that are given lesser or no protection by the first amendment of the Bill of rights. Those exceptions include:

  • incitement (i.e. the advocacy of the use of force when it is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action, Brandenburg v Ohio (1969));
  • incitement to suicide (in 2017, a juvenile court in Massachusetts, USA, ruled that repeatedly encouraging someone to complete suicide was not protected by the first amendment);
  • false statement of fact and defamation (Gertz v Robert Welch, Inc. (1974));
  • obscenity (Miller v California (1973) established the Miller test whereby speech is unprotected if ‟the average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find that the subject or work in question, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest”, and ‟the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct or excretory functions specifically defined by applicable state law”, and ‟the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value”), and
  • child pornography (New York v. Ferber (1982) which ruled that if speech or expression is classified under the child pornography exception at all, it becomes unprotected).

Therefore, there are some common law exceptions to the first amendment consecrating freedom of speech in the USA, but they are few and far between, and they need to be hotly, and expensively, debated in court, probably months or years after the triggering content was made available in the public space in the first instance, before being found, by a court, unprotected by freedom of speech, in favour of higher public policy interests.

As a result, many American and Canadian citizens resort to violent tactics, in order to request the immediate, swiftly-enforced and free of legal fees and court fees, prohibition of controversial art exhibitions, entertainment shows, movies, jokes, remarks, etc. first through the 1990s culture wars, and now through the 21st century’s cancel culture.

This is paradoxical since cancel culture and call-out culture are some of the tools used to advocate for worthy causes such as fighting against racism, sexism, sexual predation and aggression, promoting LGBTQ rights. However, the methods used, through cancel culture and online shaming, to achieve those laudable goals, are very violent and totalitarian, all taking place in the virtual realm of social media, but with very serious and long-lasting ‟real-life” consequences such as loss of employment, loss of reputation, self-harm and sometimes, suicide.

2. Can cancel culture enter through our European borders, in particular in France and the United Kingdom?

I hate to break it to you, but cancel culture is already upon us in France and the United Kingdom. We are in a globalised world, all of us are online and check the media and social media from all over the world, thanks to the internet. So this Northern American trend has, of course, reached our European shores.

It is worth noting that the recognition of ‟cancel culture”, and the realisation that is has become a sizable part of online culture, took place in the United Kingdom (‟UK”) at the beginning of the year 2020, when British television presenter and socialite Caroline Flack committed suicide allegedly because she was vilified on social media and by British tabloids, further to being sacked from British reality show ‟Love Island”. This UK epiphany about ‟cancel culture” arrived earlier than elsewhere in Europe, probably due to the shared language, and culture, that the British have with Americans and Canadians.

France is only now getting familiar with this new concept of ‟cancel culture”, further to hearing about the ‟letter on justice and open debate”, drafted, and signed, in July 2020, by more than 150 global intellectuals and authors (among whom Margaret Atwood, Wynton Marsalis, Noam Chomsky, J.K. Rowling and Salman Rushdie), and denouncing the excesses of online shaming and cancel culture. France is currently going through a phase of introspection, asking itself whether ‟la culture de l’annulation” could take off on its Gallic shores. And it is.

Proof is, I was interviewed for the 8.00pm TV News of France TV on Sunday 20 September 2020, to discuss the attempts made by no less than the new very controversial French minister of the interior, Gerald Darmanin – who was himself under criminal investigation for sexual coercion, harassment and misconduct in 2009, and then again between 2014 and 2017 – to eradicate from all SVoD services platforms such as YouTube, Spotify, Deezer, Dailymotion, the release of the first music album created by Franco-Senegalese 28 years’ old rapper, Freeze Corleone, ‟La Menace Fantôme” (‟LMF”). On which grounds is such cancellation requested? Provoking racial hatred and racial slander, no less.

Artist Freeze Corleone is an uncompromising rapper, abundantly peppering his raps with the French translations of ‟nigger” (‟négro”) and ‟bitches” (‟pétasses”) in the purest Northern American rap tradition (F. Corleone lived in Montreal, Canada, before settling down in Dakar, Senegal). He also obscurely refers to ‟Adolf”, ‟Goebbels”, ‟Ben Laden” and ‟Sion” in his rather enigmatic LMF lyrics. However, qualifying his body of work in LMF as racial slander and/or provoking racial hatred is a stretch. If you do not like it, because this content triggers you, just move on and don’t listen to it.

Freedom of speech is enshrined in the French declaration of rights of the human being and citizen, dated 1789. Article 11 of such declaration provides that the ‟free communication of thoughts and opinions is one of the most precious rights of the human being: any Citizen may therefore speak, write, print freely, except where he or she has to answer for the abuse of such freedom in specific cases provided by law”.

And such specific cases where freedom of speech may be curtailed, under French statutory law, include:

  • Law dated 1881 on the freedom of the press which, while recognising freedom of speech in all publication formats, provides for four criminally-reprehensible exceptions, which are insults, defamation and slander, incentivising the perpetration of criminal offences, if it is followed by acts, as well as gross indecency;
  • Law dated 1972 against opinions provoking racial hatred, which – like the four above-mentioned exceptions, is a criminal offense provided for in the French criminal code;
  • Law dated 1990 against revisionist opinions, which is also a criminal offense in order to penalise those who contest the materiality and factuality of the atrocities committed by the Nazis on minorities, such as Jews, homosexuals and gypsies before and during world war two, and
  • Law dated July 2019 against hateful content on internet, which provisions (requiring to remove all terrorist, pedopornographic, hateful and pornographic content from any website within 24 hours) were almost completely censored by the French constitutional council as a disproportionate infringement to freedom of speech, before entering into force in its expunged finalised version later on in 2019.

Therefore, according to French sociologist Nathalie Heinich, France does not need ‟cancel culture” because freedom of speech is already strictly corseted by French statutory laws. By this, she means that French individuals won’t have to take to social media platforms, in order to ‟cancel” whoever is misbehaving, since the all-pervading French nanny state will strike the first blow to the ‟offender”, in the same manner than French minister of justice G. Darmanin unilaterally requested all cultural streaming and video platforms, from YouTube to Spotify and Deezer, as well as all French radio and TV channels, to immediately and permanently remove the songs of Freeze Corleone’s LMF, further to opening a criminal inquiry against the latter, for allegedly committing racial slander and/or provoking racial hatred through his lyrics.

Is this above-mentioned French regal method a better tool than having the populace publicly decrying and shaming an individual who ‟steps out of line”, by using ‟cancel culture”? By no means, because, at the end of the day, it’s our collective freedom of speech which is being breached and infringed, on a whim. And that is unacceptable, in a democracy.

On the other side of the channel, the legal framework around freedom of speech is no panacea either. Freedom of expression is usually ruled through common law, in the UK. However, in 1998, the UK transposed the provisions of the European Convention on human rights, which article 10 provides for the guarantee of freedom of expression, into domestic law, by way of its Human rights act 1998.

Not only is freedom of expression tightly delineated, in article 12 (Freedom of expression) of the Human rights act 1998, but there is a broad sweep of exceptions to it, under UK common and statutory law. In particular, the following common law and statutory offences, narrowly limit freedom of speech in the UK:

  • threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour intending or likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress, or cause a breach of the peace (which has been used to prohibit racist speech targeted at individuals);
  • sending any letter or article which is indecent or grossly offensive with an intent to cause distress or anxiety (which has been used to prohibit speech of a racist or anti-religious nature, as well as some posts on social networks), governed by the Malicious communications act 1988 and the Communications act 2003;
  • incitement (i.e. the encouragement to another person to commit a crime);
  • incitement to racial hatred;
  • incitement to religious hatred;
  • incitement to terrorism, including encouragement of terrorism and dissemination of terrorist publications;
  • glorifying terrorism;
  • collection or possession of a document or record containing information likely to be of use to a terrorist;
  • treason including advocating for the abolition of the monarchy or compassing or imagining the death of the monarch;
  • obscenity;
  • indecency including corruption of public morals and outraging public decency;
  • defamation and loss of reputation, which legal framework is set out in the Defamation act 2013;
  • restrictions on court reporting including names of victims and evidence and prejudicing or interfering with court proceedings;
  • prohibition of post-trial interviews with jurors, and
  • harassment.

In Europe, and in particular in France and the UK, there is already a tight leash on freedom of speech, whether at common law or statutory law. However, ‟cancel culture” is nonetheless permeating our European online shores, following the trend started in Northern America. As a result, it is a tough time to be a free and creative European citizen, let alone a public figure or corporation, in this 21st century Europe. Indeed, not only could you have trouble with the law, if you were to make triggering or contentious comments or jokes or lyrics in the public domain, but you could also be shot down in flames by the online community, on social media, for your speech and expression.

3. How to ride the storm of ‟cancel culture”, while remaining consistently creative and productive?

In the above-mentioned cultural and legal context, it is crucial for creative professionals to think long and hard before posting, broadcasting, speaking, and even behaving.

As a result, book publishers use the services of ‟sensitivity readers”, before releasing a new work, whereby such consultants read books to be published, in order to look for, and find out, any clichés, stereotypes, scenes, formulations that may offend a part of the readership. This use of sensitivity readers is becoming more and more systematic, especially when the author speaks about themes which he, or she, does not personally master.

For example, an heterosexual author who describes a gay character, or a white author who describes Mexicans, in his or her new book, will most definitely have a sensitivity consultant review his or her output before publication. Almost inevitably, such sensitivity reader will request that some changes be made to the written content, so as to avoid a boycott of the published book, or cancellation of the author and book, altogether.

Whilst some of the classics of global literature were perceived as very shocking when they were first released (think ‟Lolita” from Vladimir Nabokov about the obsession of a middle-aged literature professor with a 12 year’s old girl, which today would probably be described as a glorification of pedophilia), they would probably never see the light of day, if they were to be published in our era.

Therefore, today’s cultural sensitivities push towards the publication and broadcasting, of written, audio and visual creative content which is bland, right-thinking, watered-down, in which the author only refers to what he or she knows, in the most neutral way possible.

This need to use ‟auto-censorship” in any content a creator wishes to publish is compounded by the fact that today, consumers of creative content do not differentiate between the author of the work, and his or her creative output. There is no separation between the author and content creator, and his or her body of work and/or fictional characters. With Millenials and US universities becoming obsessed with identity questions (i.e. the identity or feeling of belonging to a group, such as the gay community, the black community, etc.), it is the person who writes the book, or song, or writes or directs a film, who is now also important, maybe even more important than the work itself.

As a result, any content creator who writes or sings or produces an audiovisual work about a community other than his or her own, may be accused of cultural appropriation (i.e. the adoption of an element or elements of one culture or identity by members of another culture or identity) and even become the object of victimhood culture (i.e. a term coined by sociologists Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning, in their 2018 book ‟The rise of victimhood culture: microaggressions, safe spaces and the new culture wars”, to describe the attitude whereby the victims publicize microaggressions to call attention to what they see as the deviant behaviour of the offenders, thereby calling attention to their own victimization, lowering the offender’s moral status and raising their own moral status).

In this climate, it is therefore easier to publish or broadcast creative content if you belong to a minority (by being, for example, homosexual, black, brown, or a female), while white heterosexual male creators have definitely become disadvantaged, and more susceptible to being targets of ‟cancel culture”.

To conclude, a lot of prior thoughts and research and preparation and planning need to be put into the creation, and then broadcasting and publication, of any creative content today, not only with respect to such output, but also in relation to the identity, and positioning, of his or her author. If this conscious effort of adhering to right-thinking and bland ideologies is appropriately and astutely done, you and your creative output may successfully ride the storm of, not only French and UK legal limitations to your freedom of expression, but also the nasty impact of cancel culture and online shaming, hence maximising your chances that your creative work generates a commercial success.

 

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Do you need to put in place an escrow agreement with respect to the software and/or source code that you license?

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In this digital and technological corporate world, having a plan B in case your software or computer program license goes wrong is a must. Can a customer successfully leverage its position, by entering into an escrow agreement with the licensor? How does the source code escrow work, anyway? When can the source escrow be released to the licensee? [hr]

1. What is software escrow and source code escrow?

1.1. What is source code?

Source code is the version of software as it is originally written (i.e. typed into a computer) by a human in plain text (i.e. human readable alphanumeric characters), according to the Linux Information Project.

The notion of source code may also be taken more broadly, to include machine code and notations in graphical languages, neither of which are textual in nature.

For example, during a presentation to peers or potential clients, the software creator may ascertain from the outset that, “for the purpose of clarity, ‘source code’ is taken to mean any fully executable description of a software system. It is therefore construed to include machine code, very high level languages and executable graphical representations of systems”.

Often, there are several steps of program translation or minification (i.e. the process of removing all unnecessary characters from the source code of interpreted programming languages or markup languages, without changing its functionality) between the original source code typed by a human and an executable program.

Source code is primarily used as input to the process that produces an executable computer programme (i.e. it is compiled or interpreted). Hence, computer programmers often find it useful to review existing source code to learn about programming techniques. So much so, that sharing of source code between developers is frequently cited as a contributing factor to the maturation of their programming skills.

Moreover, porting software to other computer platforms is usually prohibitively difficult – if not impossible – without source code.

1.2. Legal status of software, computer programs and source code

In the United Kingdom, section 3 (Literary, dramatic and musical works) of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (“CDPA 1988“) provides that among works which are protected by copyright, are ‘computer programs’, ‘preparatory design material for a computer program’ and ‘databases’ (i.e. collections of independent works, data or other materials which are arranged in a systematic or methodical way and are individually accessible by electronic or other means).

Section 3A of the CDPA 1988 provides that the standard for copyright protection is higher, for databases, than for other ‘literary works’, since they must be original (i.e. by reason of the selection or arrangement of the contents of the database, the database constitutes the author’s own intellectual creation). Since the CDPA 1988 has no equivalent provision for computer programs, it is common knowledge that the provisions of section 3A of the CDPA 1988, relating to originality, apply to both databases and computer programs.

Moreover, the European Directive on the legal protection of databases (Directive 96/9/EC) and the Computer Directive (Directive 91/250/EEC) confirm these higher standards of originality for computer programs and databases, in the sense that they are the author’s own intellectual creation. This is a higher standard of originality than “skill, labour and judgment”.

Article L112-2 of the French intellectual property code (“IPC“) provides that softwares, including preliminary conception work, are deemed to be ‘works from the mind’ protected by copyright. That copyright protection includes source code.

Both in France and the UK, the duration of copyright for software and computer programs is 70 years after the death of the author or, if the author is a legal entity, from the date on which the software was made public.

Copyright is acquired automatically in France and the UK, upon creation of the software or computer program, without any need for registration of such intellectual property right.

Both under English and French law, computer programs are regarded as not protectable via other registered intellectual property rights, such as patents. Indeed, section 1(2) (c) of the Patents Act 1977 (“PA 1977“) lists computer programs among the things that are not regarded as being inventions “as such”. Article L611-10 of the IPC does the same in France.

1.3. Software escrow / source code escrow

Since authors of software and computer programs – which include source code – own the copyright to their work, they can licence these works. Indeed, the author has the right to grant customers and users of his software some of his exclusive rights in form of software licensing.

While some softwares are ‘open source’, i.e. free to use, distribute, modify and study, most softwares are ‘proprietary’, i.e. privately owned, restricted and, sometimes, kept secret.

For proprietary software, the only way for a user to have lawful access to it is by obtaining a license to use from its author.

When some very large sums of money are exchanged, between the licensor (i.e. the author of the software and source code) and its licensees (i.e. the users of such software and source code), a precautionary measure may be required by the latter: software escrow.

It is the deposit of software source code with a third-party escrow agent, such as Iron Mountain or SES. The source code is securely administered by a trusted, neutral third party to protect the developer’s intellectual property, while at the same time keeping a copy safe for the licensees in case anything happens, such as the licensor no longer being able to support the software or going into bankruptcy. If that situation materialises, the licensees request a release of the source code from the escrow account and are able to keep their businesses up and running. This escrow solution effectively gives the licensee control of the source code and options to move forward.

2. How do you put source code escrow in place?

Many organisations have a standing policy to require software developers to escrow source code of products the organisations are licensing.

Therefore, alongside the licensing agreement to use the computer program, in-house or external lawyers of the licensees also negotiate the terms of an escrow agreement pursuant to which the source code of that computer program will be put in escrow with a trusted third party.

3. Is it worth requesting source code escrow alongside a software license?

Only a small percentage of escrows are ever released: Iron Mountain, the dominant escrow agent in the USA, has thousands of escrow accounts and more than 45,000 customers worldwide that have stored their software and source code with them. Over the 10-year period from 1990 to 1999, Iron Mountain released 96 escrow accounts, less than 10 per year.

Just as well, because escrow agreements are entered into as a kind of insurance policy, only to be used in case something goes very wrong at the licensor’s company, which triggers one of the release events (insolvency, case of force majeure, death of the computer developer, etc.).

However, one valid cons is that most escrowed source code is defective: often, upon release, source code fails to provide adequate protection because it is outdated, defective or fails to meet the licensee’s needs. According to Iron Mountain again, 97.4 percent of all analysed escrow material deposits have been found incomplete and 74 percent have required additional input from developers to be compiled. This is a valid point and licensees of the software, who insist on getting an escrow agreement as well, must insert some clauses in the escrow agreement whereby the escrowed source code is tested on a very regular basis by both the licensee and the licensor, in order to ensure that such escrowed source code will be usable as soon as one “release event”, set out in the escrow agreement, materialises. The licensor should have an obligation of result to maintain the escrowed source code up-to-date and fully operational, throughout the duration of the escrow agreement.

Another point of caution is that licensees may lack the expertise to use the released source code. Even if the licensor has been diligent and the released source code is properly updated, well-documented and fully operational, most licensees lack the technical resources or capability to utilise the source code upon release. The licensees may work around this problem by either hiring an engineer who has the technical knowledge to make the most of that released source code (bearing in mind that most software licensing agreements bar licensees from poaching licensor’s employees during the term of the license) or instructing a third-party software company. The best and most economical approach is to be as autonomous as possible, as a licensee, by developing in-house expertise on the workings of the software, and its source code, even before one of the release events materialises.

Another identified problem is that software licensors may prevent the timely release of the escrowed source code by imposing some unilateral conditions to the release, such as the vendor having to provide its written prior approval before the source code is released by the escrow agent, upon the materialisation of a release event. Additionally, many escrow agreements require parties to participate in lengthy alternative dispute resolution proceedings, such as arbitration or mediation, in the event of a dispute relating to the release of the source code. A commonly disputed issue is whether a release event actually occurred, even when the software licensor has gone into bankruptcy! The long delay and expensive legal battle needed to obtain the source code release, may become very heavy burdens for a licensee, compounded by the difficulty to keep the licensee’s computer program and software working – as the licensor, and its technical support, have faded away. In order to avoid such delays and complications in the release of the escrowed source code, the terms of the escrow agreement must initially be reviewed, and negotiated, by an IT lawyer experienced in this area, so that all clauses are watertight and can be executed immediately and in a smooth manner, upon the occurrence of a release event.

Another cost consideration is that the expenses related to the opening and maintenance of an escrow agreement are high, and typically borne by the licensee. In addition to the fees paid to the escrow agent, the customer will often incur significant legal expenses related to the drafting and negotiation of the escrow agreement, as explained above. Software licensors being really resistant to providing their proprietary source code to anyone, escrow agreements are often subjects of long negotiations, before they are signed. However, while doing a costs/benefits analysis of getting the source code escrow, the licensee must assess how much it would cost, in case a release event occurred (bankruptcy of the licensor, case of force majeure, etc) but no prior software escrow had been put in place. If the licensee has made a considerable investment in the software, the cost to protect this asset via an escrow agreement may be trivial.

Some companies say that, since they now rely on Software-as-a-Service solutions (“SaaS“) for some of their IT needs and functionalities, there is no need for software escrow because the SaaS relies on a cloud-based system. However, SaaS implies that you need to think about both the software and your company’s data, which is indeed stored on the cloud – which adds a level of complexity. Since most SaaS provider’s business continuity/disaster recovery plans do not extend to a company’s application and data, some new insurance products have entered the market, combining both the source code escrow and disaster recovery and risk management solution. For example, Iron Mountain markets its SaaSProtect Solutions for business continuity.

To conclude, licensees need to conduct a costs/benefits analysis of having an escrow agreement in place, alongside the licensing agreement of their major software applications, in respect of each computer program which is perceived as absolutely paramount to the economic survival, and business continuity, of the licensees. Once they have balanced out the pros and cons of putting in place escrow agreements, they need to draft a list of their essential “wants” to be set out in each escrow agreement (for example, a detailed list of the release events which would trigger the release of source code to the licensee, the quarterly obligation borne by the licensor to maintain the source code in up-to-date form and working order, the secondment of a highly qualified computer programmer employee of the licensor to the offices of the licensee, on a full-time or part-time basis, in order to train in-house IT staff about the intricacies of the software and its source code) and then pass on such list to their instructed lawyer – who should be an IT expert lawyer, seasoned in reviewing and negotiating escrow agreements – for his or her review and constructive criticism and feedback. Once the licensees have agreed an “escrow insurance plan” strategy internally, and then with their counsel, they need to contact the licensor, its management and legal team, and circulate to them a term sheet of the future escrow agreement, in order to kick off the negotiation of the escrow agreement.

An escrow agreement is, and should remain, an insurance policy for the licensee, as long as it – in coordination with its legal counsel – has paved the way to a successful and well thought-out escrow rescue plan. This way, the user of the software will avoid all the pitfalls of poorly understood and drafted escrow agreements and source codes, for the present and future.

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Lawfully Creative | Antoine Pecqueur, musician, journalist and author

Lawfully Creative | Antoine Pecqueur, musician, journalist and author
‟Lawfully Creative” podcast

 
 
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About the show

Antoine PecqueurThe podcast ‟Lawfully Creative” is a series of intimate and honest conversations hosted by Annabelle Gauberti, the founding and managing partner of London and Paris-based law firm Crefovi, which focuses on advising the creative industries. Annabelle talks with artists, policy makers and professionals in the creative industries – to hear their stories, what inspires their creations, what decisions changed their careers, and what relationships influenced their work. Produced by Crefovi.

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Episode n. 14: Antoine Pecqueur, musician, journalist and author

Antoine PecqueurAntoine Pecqueur is a thorough and enthusiastic journalist focusing on culture and the creative industries, who interviewed our founding and managing partner, Annabelle Gauberti, twice, on legal issues relating to the art sector. However, Antoine has several strings to his bow, being also a professional bassoonist and author.

1 May 2020 – Antoine Pecqueur and Crefovi’s founding and managing partner, and Lawfully Creative’s founder and editor, Annabelle Gauberti, had a Zoom video call, during these times of lockdown, in order to discuss Antoine’s trajectory in three distinct, yet complementary, cultural fields, which are music, journalism and writing. Antoine has accumulated an impressive body of work, at 38 years’ old, thanks to a strong work ethic and relentless work. Listen to the lowdown, from Antoine, in this entertaining and chatty ‟Lawfully Creative” podcast!

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A global network

Clients praise Crefovi’s lawyers for their responsiveness & ability to understand the technical, business and legal aspects of each commercial transaction and come back, deal after deal, to be advised by them.

While London and Paris based, we routinely work across borders. The vast majority of our engagements are multi-jurisdictional. We are used to working in multinational teams, and rely on our network of specialist lawyers for support in other jurisdictions.

The team has therefore established an extensive international network of creative industries’ contacts and a close association with other specialist lawyers worldwide. Our history of successes in high profile, politically sensitive matters reflects an ability to act swiftly and with the utmost discretion.

Indeed, Crefovi’s lawyers are very well connected in the world of the creative industries, attending, and participating to discussion panels at, on a regular basis, each session of the professional trade shows such as CESWeb SummitDLD & Slush, Midem, as well as the Cannes film festival and EFM and the Berlinale.


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How could the failed enforcement of the SGAE arbitration award have been avoided?

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When SGAE concluded an arbitration, in July 2017, to decide a dispute between it and major and indie music publishers, everybody thought that the Spanish collecting society would walk the line and comply with the arbitration award. Not quite. Here is why, and how such outcome could have been avoided.[hr]

sgae arbitrationSGAE is the Spanish collective rights management society which has the authority to licence works protected by music copyright, and collect royalties as part of compulsory licensing or individual licences negotiated on behalf of its respective members. Like other copyright collective agencies, SGAE collects royalty payments from users of copyrighted works and distributes royalties back to its copyright owners.

Music users (those that pay the licence fees) include TV networks, radio stations, public places such as bars and restaurants. Copyright owners (those that receive the royalties) include music writers and composers, lyricists, as well as their respective publishers.[1]

On 19 July 2017, an arbitration panel from the Mediation and Arbitration Centre of WIPO decided a matter in dispute between major and independent music publishers BMG, Peermusic, Sony/ATV/EMI Music Publishing, Universal Music Publishing and Warner/Chappell Music, as well as AEDEM (i.e. a collective of over 200 small and medium sized Spanish music publishers), on one side, and SGAE, on the other side.[2]

While the award drafted by the three WIPO arbitrators, published on 19 July 2017, was binding, CISAC, the international confederation representing collective copyright management societies in over 120 countries, decided to temporarily exclude SGAE from its roster on 30 May 2019 because SGAE was not in compliance with the terms of such award.[3] This bold move highlighted that, despite the binding WIPO award, SGAE had failed to comply with its obligations and promised reforms, as these were set out in the arbitration award.

How could the failed enforcement of the SGAE arbitration award have been avoided?

1. Why was an arbitration done, and why was an award published as a result of it?

In June 2017, Spanish police raided SGAE’s Madrid offices, an operation that heralded another chapter in the continuing corruption saga of the troubled, yet powerful, copyright collection organisation[4].

The police searched the SGAE headquarters as part of an investigation aimed at various members of SGAE and employees of several Spanish television stations. The agents were looking for documentation related to “the creation of low quality music and registration of false arrangements of musical works which are in the public domain”.

After the music was going through that laundering process, it was registered in the name of “front men” and publishing companies owned by the Spanish TV stations themselves, such as Mediaset, Atresmedia and TV3.

The purpose was to broadcast it on late night programs, on various television stations in the early hours of the morning, at a barely audible level, generating copyright royalties. This scheme is known as “la rueda” (the wheel) and it sparked other schemes, at SGAE.

In addition to these criminal proceedings, on 19 July 2017, a WIPO arbitration panel decided a related matter in dispute between major and indie publishers, on one side, and SGAE, on the other side.

Indeed, while SGAE tried to remedy the problems caused by this endemic corruption within its ranks, and the subsequent “creative” schemes put in place by some of its members, by entering into a gentlemen’s agreement with some TV broadcasters in Madrid more than a decade ago, and then by entering a Good Practices Agreement with Mediaset (Telecinco) and Atresmedia (Antena 3) in 2013, these agreements were deemed anti-competitive and an abuse of SGAE’s dominant position, by the Spanish competition authorities. Very much to the liking of a number of TV operators and songwriters involved with night time music, who had raised such challenges before Spanish competition authorities, the latter found that SGAE was interfering with the freedom of the broadcasters to use the music of their choice, and subsequently that these agreements violated competition law[5].

While, inside SGAE, publishers board members tried to change the distribution rules by board vote a number of times, their efforts were blocked by a number of SGAE board members who write music used for “la Rueda”.

Exasperated, music publishers not owned by TV broadcasters sued SGAE in court over the Wheel and SGAE distribution rules. As the case was proceeding slowly, the publishers and SGAE instead agreed to submit the matter to a binding arbitration before a WIPO arbitration board of three arbitrators.

The parties were the group OPEM (made up of BMG, Peermusic, Sony/ATV/EMI Music Publishing, Universal Music Publishing and Warner/Chappell Music); the group AEDEM (made up of Spanish independent music publishers); and SGAE.

Please note that no TV broadcasters were parties to the arbitration because they declined to participate in it, after being contacted by the arbitrators to take part.

The WIPO award was published on 19 July 2017.

2. What was the outcome of the arbitration? What did the WIPO arbitration award have in store, for SGAE?

The SGAE arbitration focused primarily on two claims:

  • the inequitable sharing of money received by SGAE from a music user and distributed by SGAE back to the user of that music, as a copyright holder and
  • the improper distribution of royalties for the use of inaudible, or barely audible, music.[6]

After considering the evidence, the three WIPO arbitrators decided:

  • to have an equitable distribution, so as not to prejudice other authors, by implementing some changes in SGAE’s distribution rules: the rules must change so that the TV broadcasters receive, via their publishing companies for music uses in the early morning hours, a variance of 15% of the total collected from them, respectively;
  • that distribution must stop for inaudible music, as identified by the technology used by Spanish tech company BMAT or a company using similar software and
  • that SGAE should disperse its “scarcely audible fund” as described in the arbitration award.

The WIPO arbitrators also made the award fully binding, setting out that neither broadcasters, nor other individuals or companies, could cancel their decision.

Also, the WIPO arbitrators set out in their award that the competition authorities could not be able to cancel it because this award does not impact a broadcaster’s ability to decide what music to play or who owns the music it plays. The arbitration award merely relates to the rights to a distribution from SGAE and, therefore, only impacts its members.

3. Why was the SGAE arbitration award not enforced properly? What could have been done to ensure such timely enforcement?

Yet, the arbitration award, as well as the ongoing criminal investigation relating to the fraudulent registration of works, do not seem to be enough so trigger the necessary changes needed to clean up the act of Spain’s sole collective music copyrights management society.

Indeed, despite the WIPO award expressly requesting that SGAE should cap distributions to broadcasters-publishers at 15% of the broadcasters’ licence fees paid, the SGAE board of directors decided to increase such cap to 20% in May 2018. Altogether, in June 2018, the SGAE board decided to go back to the way it was operating before the publication of the international award, with TV broadcasters-publishers able to receive their share of distributions, which could amount to 70% of the licence fee paid by the TV broadcaster[7].

Consequently, in an unprecedented move, CISAC, the international confederation representing authors’ societies in over 120 countries, decided to temporarily exclude SGAE from its board, during its general assembly held on 30 May 2019[8].

This is because the requested reforms, set out in the arbitration award, were still not implemented by SGAE, two years further to the award’s publication date, with “la Rueda” still being a thing.

While the SGAE saga is definitely a festering and endemic issued, several action steps could have been taken, by the three WIPO arbitrators as well as the co-claimants to the arbitration, to avoid the arbitration award being ultimately ignored by SGAE’s board of directors and management.

Firstly, it was a mistake to not have any of the Spanish TV broadcasters act as parties to the arbitration and its resulting award. Indeed, since these TV channels and their publishing companies are the main culprits of setting up these fraudulent schemes at SGAE, the arbitration decision had to involve them, and be binding on them too, to become fully enforceable and efficient.

Secondly, the arbitration award did not set out anything about changing the makeup of the SGAE board of directors. However, many Spanish TV broadcasters hold, directly or indirectly, significant positions on SGAE board of directors, having massive influence on the board members’ votes and appointments to decision-making execute positions. Therefore, the arbitration award should have been bolder and also provide for a complete restructuring of SGAE board of directors and election rules. This way, the votes from SGAE’s newly appointed board of directors, needed to implement the reforms requested in the 2019 arbitration award, would have been successful and supporting change.

Thirdly, some fining mechanisms, and other strong incentives for SGAE to comply, should have been set out in the arbitration award, with clear deadlines and metrics by which the various requested reforms must have been implemented. Failing this, SGAE and its dishonest employees would keep on doing business as usual, bolstered by some of its directors and members sympathetic to the arguments made by Spanish TV broadcasters and their publishing companies. In other words, the penalty mechanisms should have been far more stringent, and expensive, for SGAE, in case it did not implement the requested reforms set out in the arbitration award, in a timely manner.

Finally, when some rumours started erupting in 2018, that SGAE was not complying with its obligations under the 2017 arbitration award, the group OPEM (made up of major and independent music publishers), as well as the group AEDEM (made up of Spanish independent music publishers), parties to such WIPO arbitration as co-claimants, should have immediately used the provisions of the New York Convention on the recognition and enforcement of foreign arbitral awards 1958 – to which Spain is a signatory since May 1977 –, as well as the enforcement mechanisms set out in such award, to obtain the swift recognition and enforcement of the WIPO award in Spain, by SGAE.  It’s all very well to spend time and energy coining a forward-thinking arbitration award, but if it fails to be enforced, then its value and impact are severely limited, at best.

 

[1] Copyright in the digital era: how the creative industries can cash in, https://crefovi.com/articles/copyright-digital-era/, 14/06/2017

[2] SGAE statement on the WIPO arbitration award ending the conflict of night time slots on television, http://www.sgae.es/en-EN/SitePages/EstaPasandoDetalleActualidad.aspx?i=2190&s=5, 25/07/2017

[3] The expulsion of SGAE from CISAC: a regrettable but essential step towards reform, https://www.cisac.org/Cisac-Home/Newsroom/Articles/The-expulsion-of-SGAE-from-CISAC-a-regrettable-but-essential-step-towards-reform, 12/06/2019

[4] Spanish Authors’ Rights Society Raided in Latest Corruption Probe, https://www.billboard.com/articles/business/7840889/spain-authors-rights-society-sgae-raid-corruption-probe, 20/06/2017

[5] Music Confidential – Outrage in Spain – Part one of Two – 20/07/2017

[6] SGAE statement on the WIPO arbitration award ending the conflict of night time slots on television, http://www.sgae.es/en-EN/SitePages/EstaPasandoDetalleActualidad.aspx?i=2190&s=5, 25/07/2017

[7] Music Confidential, A defining moment: when enough is enough already (Part One), 07/06/2019

[8] MUSIC PUBLISHERS WARN SPANISH SOCIETY THEY’LL DUMP IT IF IT KEEPS UP TV ‘SCAM’, https://www.musicbusinessworldwide.com/music-publishers-warn-spanish-society-theyll-dump-it-if-it-keeps-up-tv-scam/, 11/06/2018

 

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London & Paris law firm for creative industries Crefovi has been working on matters relating to the law of luxury goods and fashion (droit du luxe) since 2003. We love it and have broaden our practice to advise all types of creative businesses (in particular, in the music, art, design, media, cinema, entertainment, technologies, gaming and life sciences sectors).

Moreover, Crefovi has industry teams, built by experienced lawyers with a wide range of practice and geographic backgrounds. These industry teams apply their extensive industry expertise to best serve clients’ business needs. 

Annabelle Gauberti, founding and managing partner of London and Paris 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.

A global network

Clients praise Crefovi’s lawyers for their responsiveness & ability to understand the technical, business and legal aspects of each creative industries’ transaction and come back, deal after deal, to be advised by them.

While London and Paris based, we routinely work across borders. The vast majority of our engagements are multi-jurisdictional. We are used to working in multinational teams, and rely on our network of specialist lawyers for support in other jurisdictions.

The team has therefore established an extensive international network of contacts and a close association with other specialist lawyers worldwide. Our history of successes in high profile, politically sensitive matters reflects an ability to act swiftly and with the utmost discretion.

Indeed, Crefovi’s lawyers are very well connected in the creative industries, attending, and participating to, discussion panels, on a regular basis, each session of the professional trade shows such as Midem, MaMa, SXSW, the Cannes film festival, EFM and the Berlinale and the American Film Market.


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