CA Paris, Pôle 5 Chbre 2, 19 janvier 2018

One of the main principles under French copyright law is that authors (writers, directors, animation designers, drawers, etc.) must receive a remuneration that is proportional to the revenues generated by the exploitation of the work they contributed to.

However, the French IP code also sets out a list of limited exceptions to this main principle.

In particular, the remuneration of the author can be limited to a lump sum when “the nature or the conditions of the exploitation makes it impossible to apply the proportional remuneration rule”. This is the case when the contribution of the author does not constitute one of the essential elements of the work, or when the use of said contribution is accessory to the work being exploited.

In this case, a French producer had engaged a few authors in the frame of the production of animation films, for the design and drawing of secondary characters, props and sets of the films.

In consideration for the assignment of their rights on their designs, it was agreed that the producer would pay them a lump sum (vs a proportional remuneration), on the basis that their contribution was accessory to the work.  

However the authors later on introduced an action against the producer, in order to obtain the nullity of their agreements with the producers, on the grounds that it was not compliant with the proportional remuneration principle.

The Tribunal who first ruled on the case back in January 2016 had initially considered that the authors’ request was well-founded.

However in this new ruling, the Court of appeal of Paris ruled that the Tribunal was wrong to assess that the creations of the authors were not accessory. In its opinion, the elements provided by the parties did not permit to consider that the fixed remuneration paid to the authors was illicit. The Court thus overturned the ruling of the Tribunal and considered that the contracts are valid.

This ruling is rather important as it shows in which circumstances the exception to the proportional remuneration principle can actually be applied by producers.