Government ignores royalty rights for online artists

Britain's actors to be given the big brother treatment

The UK government plans to place the cream of Britain's arts on an interactive Web site, Culture Online, have failed to address the royalty rights of artists who would be involved.

The proposal that is contained in the Culture and Recreation Bill is scheduled for a second reading in the House of Lords Thursday. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport and actors' union Equity have however both confirmed that the issue of paying artists royalty fees for the use of their work will not be discussed.

The £150m venture is hoped to allow the nation to watch and interact with Royal Shakespeare Company actors or members of the London Symphony Orchestra on the Web. Culture secretary Chris Smith is flagging the venture as "what the Open University was to the sixties and Channel 4 was to the eighties".

A spokesperson at Equity confirmed that the government has not approached them for permission to film artists in performance. The issue of royalty payments for rehearsals screened on the Internet is entering new territory, but the union has stated that it will be seeking payment for actors' work that is used. "Actors' contracts will not include any provision for their work to be broadcast in any way," he explained.

"There is no permission with the current agreement to put [actors'] material on the Web other than to advertise the product," said the Equity spokesperson. "There are rights issues involved, and the government will need to enter negotiations with the artists' employers."

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has confirmed that it will be advertising for a new chairman board and chief executive shortly, who will form the new statutory committee in charge of Culture Online.

The treasury has already granted £5m to the proposal. Ministers hope that a pilot scheme can be launched by late summer.

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