Australian Writers' Guild President, Jan Sardi.

The Australian Writers' Guild's legal action against Screenrights, whom it alleges has failed to pay scriptwriters’ royalties, has been referred to meditation.

The case came before Justice Jagot today for a further directions hearing in the Federal Court. It was ordered proceedings be referred to mediation prior to September 30.

As IF has previously reported, the action, filed on March 3 by the AWG and its Authorship Collecting Society (AWGACS), came after protracted negotiations between the AWG and Screenrights over the distribution of royalties.

Screenrights was established in 1990 to administer provisions in the Australian Copyright Act that allow educational institutions to copy from television and radio, provided payment is made to the copyright owners.

The AWG/AWGACS have alleged that Screenrights has engaged in numerous breaches of statutory duty and trust, misleading or deceptive conduct and interference with contractual relations.

As a result, the guild argues that Screenrights may owe Australian scriptwriters millions of dollars of script royalties collected over many years from educational and other users of Australian films and TV programs.

AWG President Jan Sardi said that although previous negotiations with Screenrights had failed to produce any real movement, the guild would put its best efforts into mediation.

"A fair outcome will not only be good for screenwriters, but it will be good for the health of Australia's entire screen industry," he said.

In a statement, Screenrights said it welcomed the assistance of the Federal Court in reaching agreement on a timetable for mediation of the claims made by the AWG and AWGACS. 

Screenrights said it totally rejected claims it has failed to pay scriptwriters royalty entitlements, and was hopeful that a mediation process may help provide clarity around the case.

The matter has been listed to come back before the Federal Court on October 11 to report on the outcome of the mediation talks and any further steps which may be required to resolve the dispute.

In the meantime, Screenrights said it would continue to collect and pay royalties on behalf of all its members in a fair and transparent manner, in accordance with applicable contracts and Australian law.