Two centuries of experience

From Beaumarchais to the digital era: over two centuries of experience in the collective management of authors' rights.


Spurred on by Beaumarchais (1732-1799), authors began to take action. Towards the end of the 18th century, the situation for authors was extremely precarious. The all-powerful actors of the Théâtre-Français exploited authors by using their work in exchange for a pittance. Beaumarchais, who was enjoying great success with the Barber of Seville, decided to react.

At an evening dinner he organized on 3th July 1777, a group of twenty-two authors got together to form the first “Society for dramatic legislation” and laid down the basis for the Society of Dramatic Authors and Composers-SACD.


The first law on authors’ rights passed. After a 14-years struggle, authors obtained the vote on the law of 13th January 1791, ratified on 19th January 1791 by Louis XVI, which recognised the concept of authors’ rights for the first time in the world.


Creation of the Society of Dramatic Authors and Composers.

On 7th March 1829, the two societies created in 1791 and 1798 joined forces.


Towards international legislation. Lamartine proposed an international law to extend the protection which French authors enjoyed to the entire world.


Extension of the period protecting the author’s economic rights up to fifty years after his/her death.


Birth of the International Literary and Artistic Association.

Victor Hugo founded this society which was instrumental in the drawing up of the Berne Convention, signed in 1866.


International protection of authors’ works. On 9th September 1886 the Berne Convention was signed to protect literary and artistic works. This treaty allowed foreign authors to benefit from rights currently in force in countries where their works were performed.


Admission of the repertoire of cinematographic works.


Admission of the repertoire of radiophonic works.


Foreign authors’ societies pool their resources.

Creation of CISAC (International Confederation of Authors and Composers Societies) which currently unites 239 societies in 123 countries. These societies coordinate their efforts and act as a unified group in their relations with the authorities. They also provide rigorous administration of foreign repertoires, by applying the principle of reciprocity.


Admission of the repertoire of TV fiction.


The French law on authors’ rights. The law of 11th March 1957 regarding literary and artistic property introduced new legislation for authors’ rights and consolidated case law going back to 1791. It recognised the primacy of moral rights and determined, using existing case law as a basis, the substance of authors’ rights, conditions of exploitation of authors’ economic rights, terms and conditions of performance and publishing contracts, and application procedures.


The Lang Law (named after its promulgator, the French Culture Minister, Jack Lang): the audiovisual era. The law of 3rd July 1985 developed the terms and conditions regarding authors’ rights for audiovisual works by applying the regime for cinematographic works. This law also defined the legal regulations for audiovisual production contracts and instituted remuneration for private copying.

What is private copying?

Whenever blank recordable device or material which can be used to copy music and images (such as USB stick) are purchased, a small part of their celling price (the fee for private copying) goes to pay the authors, publishers, performers and producers of works which are liable to be copied onto this devices or materials.

25% of the sums thus collected are allocated to cultural actions.

Over and above the funds paid to the artists (75% of sums collected are paid directly to them), what remains to be considered is the fact that private copying establishes a real pact between artists and the public by enabling the latter to contribute to the creative process.


From the GATT agreements to the WTO. After seven years of negotiations, the GATT agreements signed on 15th December 1993 excluded the audiovisual sector. The “cultural exception” was maintained.

On 15th April 1994, the WTO (World Trade Organization) was set up in order to implement the GATT agreements. Within this framework, authors’ rights remained a topic for discussion, notably regarding the conditions of their international application.


European legislation on “neighbouring rights”.

On 25th July 1995, the European Commission adopted the Green Paper on authors’ rights and neighbouring rights within the context of the “Information Society”.


Extension of the protection of authors’ rights.

On 20th December 1996, the Geneva Diplomatic Conference adopted the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Treaty on authors’ rights and neighbouring rights.


Extension of the period of legal protection of works from 50 to 70 years after the author’s death.


Remuneration for digital private copying.

Since 4th January 2001, remuneration for private copying has been extended to removable digital devices (CD-ROMs, DVDs, etc).


New legislation regarding remuneration for private copying.

New legislation came into force on 4th July regarding remuneration for private copying applicable to digital media in certain electronic devices: Hi-Fi units, walkman players with hard drives, decoders and video recorders with hard drives.


Defending cultural diversity. On 23 January 2004, a number of cultural professional organizations, including SACD, changed the name of the Cultural Watchdog Committee which they had created in 1997. From then on, the “French Coalition for Cultural Diversity”, joined forces with other similar bodies for the promotion of cultural diversity throughout the world.


Protecting and promoting the diversity of cultural expression. On the 18th March 2007, the UNESCO Convention for the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expression came into force and was an important step forward. It recognised, on an international level, the legitimate right of States to adopt and implement the cultural policies they considered necessary in order to protect and encourage national creativity and provide everyone with access to multiple cultural opportunities.

Defending private copying: in March 2007, 50 organisations gathered together to defend and promote measures for private copying. This remuneration for private copying finances cultural actions developed by collecting societies and allows several thousands of artistic projects to come to light each year.

By matching technological developments, private copying has extended to new media such as USB keys, removable memory cards and external data storage media, except for those meant for professional use.

Since 2008 SACD has been actively involved in a number of current issues:

  • Reform of the French public broadcasting system
  • Implementation of the television broadcasters’ obligations to invest in patrimonial works
  • Creation of an observation unit for the performing arts
  • Reform of the public policies for the performing arts
  • Setting up of a Supervisory Authority for the dissemination of audiovisual works and protection of rights on the Internet, to make sure that online works are legally used
  • Development of legal content online. SACD remains also active and watchful on all the electronic media, to foster the creation of works and ensure the protection of authors’ rights.