rights of those written about?
In France this summer people kept recommending I watch the documentary ?ätre et avoir, a documentary following an amazing teacher in a one-room French rural school. The film was a huge success, making ‚Ç¨2 million in profits, and the teacher, Georges Lopez, having been paid nothing for his immense involvement in the film, felt exploited. So he sued, asking to be paid as an actor, and also arguing that his teaching methods were his intellectual property and therefore protected. He lost, as The Guardian reports, and filmmakers are thrilled that they can continue to make documentaries without paying their subjects. (Admittedly he turned down an offer of ‚Ç¨37,500 the film-makers made him after he sued. Also, he’s appealing, and the parents of the kids in the film are asking ‚Ç¨20,000 for each child, so the case isn’t over yet.)
There are parallels here to research ethics, you know, the idea that we have the right to simply describe, define and present others. Although I agree with Eirik that to patent or copyright teaching methods would be detrimental to culture and learning, it seems wrong to me that the people who live the story should be seen as less important than the people who frame the story. These peoples’ lives are made public, and they’re made public by someone else, portrayed not as they would portray themselves. That is not a small thing. But then history has always been written by the
Mr Lopez could not be considered a “co-author” of the film because he had not taken part in decisions on how to shoot the documentary. (Guardian 29/9)
I guess the moral is simply that if someone’s making a documentary about you, you should make sure the contract includes a line about what portion you get of any profits the film makes.