What is this all about?
On 22 March 2020, the French parliament passed an emergency law to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic (Loi N°2020-290 d'urgence pour faire face à l'épidémie de covid-19) (the “Law”). This Law results in the granting of special powers to the French government during the current state of health emergency.
Among the exceptional measures adopted, this Law allows the President of the Centre National du Cinéma et de l’Image Animée (National Centre for Cinema and the Moving Image - the “CNC”) – a government body under the authority of the French Culture Ministry – to reduce the statutory time period within which a movie cannot be shown in the form of videos or on audiovisual media (both traditional TV broadcasts and on-demand audiovisual media services), after its release in movie theatres.
This is an exception to the “chronologie des medias” (media chronology) rule, which is a French cultural restriction that has been in place since 1983, which aims to prevent the different broadcasters of a cinematographic work from competing excessively with each other, while at the same time allowing the producer of the work to benefit from a return on investment by enjoying the best conditions for its exploitation over time. Thus, it is usually necessary to wait for a four months before being able to release a movie in the form of DVD/Blu-Ray or VOD after its movie theatre release.
Why this derogation and under which conditions?
The media chronology rule has always been and still is a very sensitive and hotly debated topic in France, so its revisions and derogations are exceptional.
However, the question of public access to newly released movies arose acutely following the closure of movie theatres in France since 14 March, 2020, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The president of the CNC is now allowed, on an exceptional basis, to derogate from the media chronology rule for movies that were being screened in movie theatres on 14 March 2020, in order to allow their exploitation in the form of DVD/Blu-Ray or VOD without waiting the four month freeze period.
That being said, the president of the CNC has pointed out that this derogation will be assessed on a case-by-case basis, movie by movie, under the following conditions:
- A prior request needs to be filed by the holder of the exploitation rights in the film at stake;
- Each application should be examined, on the basis of objective criteria, within the framework of a consultation between the CNC and the representatives of the concerned sectors.
What about the movies that have not been released in movie theatres yet?
Movies that had not yet been released into French movie theatres by the time of the 14 March closure are not affected. As reiterated by the CNC, these movies are not yet subject to the media chronology rule so the right-holders are free to exploit them through any media subject to applicable contract terms.
However, in the absence of any movie theatre release, the CNC would normally be obliged to claim, from the right-holders who have been granted aids as part of the financial support for the motion picture industry, the refund of these aids. Hence, the CNC is currently launching a consultation involving the whole motion picture and audiovisual sectors, to consider the terms according to which a movie might, if necessary, be made publicly available directly in the form of DVD/Blu-Ray or on VOD, without the rights holders being obliged to refund these aids.