Power Play for Artists’ Rights : Movies: Spielberg, Lucas and Ovitz are among the creative community heavyweights to launch a foundation to protect filmmakers’ work.


There was wine-tasting from the private stock of Francis Ford Coppola and hors d’oeuvres from Los Angeles’ trendiest eateries being served.

But the real reason several hundred of the film industry’s creative community joined such heavyweights as Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and agent Michael Ovitz on Wednesday night, was to launch the Artists Rights Foundation--an organization that will work toward giving film artists the right to object to any tampering of their work.

Directors such as Stanley Kramer, Carl Reiner, Lawrence Kasdan and Robert Zemeckis, plus stars such as Anjelica Huston, Sally Fields and Bill Murray mingled in the crowd. Above them was a banner that read: “Film artists around the world demand the right to object to any defacement of their work in the U.S.A.”

But the people you didn’t see gathered in the lobby of the Directors Guild of America building on Sunset Boulevard, were producers and movie industry executives. Traditionally, they are on the other side of an issue that is an age-old battle between art and commerce.


Powerful groups such as the Motion Pictures Assn. of America, which represents all the major studios, plus the National Assn. of Broadcasters, the Recording Industry Assn. of America and many American publishers, have been opposed to any changes in the nation’s copyright laws. In the U.S., ownership generally equals authorship--a position that many in the creative community find appalling.

“Moving a mountain is so hard,” said Spielberg after the evening’s program was over, expressing a bit of frustration about the time it is taking to get movement on the issue. “Our only chance is to hit them before the 1992 elections.”

The Directors Guild has attempted to draw attention to the issue by making a case against the U.S. government position in Geneva, Switzerland in July 1990, at a meeting of the Berne Treaty of the World Intellectual Property Organization that governs the rights of artists worldwide.

The next battleground for both sides could be the Film Disclosure Act of 1991, which is pending hearings in Congress. The act would require producers and broadcasters to label any alterations to filmed work.


Lucas told the audience that as a filmmaker who specializes in state-of-the-art special effects, he has “seen the future of film.”

“Unless we are able to obtain protection of moral rights under the Berne Convention . . . the agony of filmmakers who have suffered as their work has been chopped, tinted and compressed, is nothing to what is going to be happening,” Lucas said.

“Releasing entities have gained experience through the video market and colorization and it’s not going to be too long in the future before an actor, who has become unacceptable for whatever reason of politics or marketability, might be electronically replaced by another actor.”

The Artists Rights Foundation will be headed by executive director Keith LaQua from offices at the Directors Guild.


Few filmmakers have ever had the clout to retain “authorship” or the ownership of the negatives of their work from the companies that produce them. And challenging the established order of the major studios is not something that could easily be tackled by persons without the status in the industry of a Spielberg, Lucas or Ovitz.

Spielberg has said his success allows him to speak out. Even his latest effort, the soon-to-be-released “Hook,” does not belong to him. “Authorship” of that film, according to ending credits, is the property of distributor TriStar Pictures.