Tropfest winner Jason van Genderen on filmmakers’ rights

21 January, 2013 by Jason Van Genderen

Jason van Genderen at Tropfest.

Short filmmakers take note – it’s time to start loving the fine print. The days of posting your latest creation innocently on YouTube or Facebook need a little more reflection, as a content-hungry online world scours for new free feeds at an increasing rate. Who even owns your physical content on a social media platform, or the rights?


Depending on what you read, there’s cascading shades of grey. Perhaps the most sobering advice comes direct from YouTube’s own terms of service, where it’s pretty crystal that they require you to grant (to YouTube) a non-exclusive, worldwide, perpetual license to freely sub-license, re-distribute, re-publish and monetise your content. ie. they make the bulk of the money – not you.

Now I’m certainly not trying to undervalue the worth of the platform for getting your work out there, but you do need to be aware of the potential cost of sharing something for free, or the cost of someone else sharing your work without your permission. We absolutely need to embrace online audiences – the question is how do we find online audiences prepared to monetise our content, affording the humble filmmaker an income to continue creating with?

Aside from the lucrative sharing platforms, we really do need to find an internet that works for everyone, and that includes audiences and filmmakers. Piracy is directly impacting on filmmakers today – and the future career prospects of upcoming filmmakers.

So how motivated are we to protect our creative works?

As an emerging filmmaker, I must admit I’m becoming more and more protective of my works… not because I’m scared of missing out on a screening fee but I’m absolutely terrified that as content creators and producers, our ability to recoup our production, distribution and marketing spend – and then produce new work relies on a good ol’ honesty system – i.e. being paid to create my next project. Rapidly evolving business models means filmmakers need to employ more sophisticated thinking prior to signing away rights in their work. The more fragmented our distribution markets become, the smarter we need to be to protect the sales and distribution of our content.

I meet so many fellow short filmmakers who really never read the agreement details or submit their works willy-nilly to whoever has an eyeball to spare. Or on the flipside, new entrants to a film festival who walk away because they feel the terms and conditions kill their creative spirit. New filmmakers all too often give away their works in the hope of being ‘discovered’, but what’s left for a buyer to discover when there’s nothing left to sell?

Now I’m the first to admit a degree of latency in policing my own media collection. Let’s be honest, I’m sure there are more than a few of us who do have a pirated copy of something in amongst the films and music we saved up and paid for. However that doesn’t excuse it by any means.
Protecting our work is in everyone’s best interest, but who’ll champion such a curly conversation topic? What we need is leadership from our own. On this note, I say bravo John Polson and the whole Tropfest team for taking a stand to protect not only themselves, but every filmmaker who submits their work to the world’s largest short film festival. In fact, Tropfest even goes so far as to host free information workshops each year to help educate filmmakers about their ownership and licensing rights when submitting a work – which other festival does that?

No wonder then that Polson (a long time pro-copyright crusader) will be awarded with the CineAsia 2012 Asia Pacific Copyright Educator Award at CineAsia in Hong Kong on December 13, in front of the cream of the region’s exhibitors and distributors. That’s an accolade well deserved in my eyes.
As a previous Tropfest winner and serial finalist, I value the importance this festival places on the works submitted every year, now in multiple locations wordwide. Out of all the film festivals I’ve had works recognised in, and re-screened through, Tropfest is the only film fest who’s actually paid me a licensing fee for screening my films via other promotional markets and channels. That’s when those thousands of tiny words on the flipside of your entry form actually start meaning something to you. There’s the currency in your signature, and your idea.

The movement to better protect the Australian screen community is gaining momentum. You may have seen the ‘Thank You’ campaign currently running in cinemas featuring a who’s who of local screens sharing some love for those believers of respecting our hard work. I say we all need to take a creative stand and empower our frames with a future: on the bus, at the dinner table, at next weekend’s barbeque. Start a conversation with your peers, friends and family and see what their perceptions are about the legitimacy of their personal entertainment and media collection.
And when they dismiss your question and pass the salad… ask them if their never-ending support of your filmic career extends to their hip pocket. If not, steal the beers, bangers and run.

For more information about the Intellectual Property Awareness Foundation (IPAF) visit or for more information about Jason van Genderen visit

This article originally appeared in IF Magazine #149 (October-November 2012).