Sophie Scholl filmmaker wants compulsory license to give movies away for free

Fred Breinersdorfer, writer and producer of the Oscar-nominated German drama Sophie Scholl: The Final Days, wants to fight piracy by giving up control: Lawmakers should change copyright laws to enact a compulsory online license for movies and make them available for free online, Breinersdorfer proposed in an essay for the German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung this week. Such a license would allow anyone to use Breinersdorfer movies and movies from anyone else online without striking a deal with him or any other rights holders, provided that licensing fees are paid.

Breinersdorfer argued in his article that such a license would be the only effective way to fight piracy, which is particularly rampant in countries like Germany where legal services have yet to gain traction. Torrent and streaming sites offer free movies, but make good money with ads, he said. So why not offer companies an easy way to license films and share some of that ad revenue with creators and studios?

Said Breinersdorfer:

“Why shouldn’t it be possible to organize the whole thing legally if internet gangsters can make millions with ads?”

His proposal: Institute a one-stop-shop for online licenses where internet companies can acquire rights to use any film that is no longer in theaters. Entrepreneurs would be free to launch whatever video platform they want, whether it’s a genre-specific, ad-supported streaming site or a premium platform with paid HD downloads, and then just pay a predetermined fee, which would then be distributed to rights holders.

Breinersdorfer’s proposal is radical, but not unprecedented. Compulsory licenses have long been a key part of the music business, where every band can freely cover another band’s songs without first asking for permission. Similarly, radio stations don’t have to strike deals with record labels before they air their songs. Instead, stations pay compulsory rates to composers and publishers through entities like ASCAP and BMI.

However, it’s unlikely that we will see similar licenses for the online use of movies any time soon. Even in the music biz, attempts to broaden collective licensing have failed. Back in 2008, Warner Music explored the idea of collective licenses for online music to legalize file sharing, but those efforts were effectively shelved in 2010.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock user woaiss.