Extra fees that will suffocate small UK film distributors…Film critic writes open letter to Maria Miller asking about unfair expenses.

Posted: 3 April, 2014 in BBFC, VRA Video Recordings Act
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Read more UK Government Watch at MelonFarmers.co.uk

maria millerTo: Maria Miller, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

Dear Ms. Miller,
Please forgive this open letter; it’s an ungainly form of communication but I approached your department for an interview and didn’t hear back. So…

You might not realise it but the Department of Culture, Media and Sport has undertaken a course of action that puts a number of small businesses at direct risk. Right now, Britain has some of the most exciting and inventive independent DVD labels in the world, companies doing everything from producing definitive editions of art-house classics to rescuing the forgotten treasures of British film.

The sheer quality of their work has made them indispensable to discerning viewers around the globe. Hell, if you want a recommendation, just ask the Prime Minister — those Borgen box-sets he’s so fond of are released by Arrow Films , one of our very best.

All that’s under threat because of new regulations from the DCMS.

Let me explain: as it stands, the Video Recordings Act 1984 exempts certain types of material — including documentary articles — from the scrutiny of the British Board of Film Classification (an organisation, it’s important to note, that charges heftily for its services).

Since most DVD extras — the featurettes, interviews and visual essays that so often supplement the main feature — are classed as ‘documentaries’, independent DVD labels can create high-quality special editions stuffed to the gunnels with extra material without incurring the prohibitive BBFC costs.

That’s all going to change. The VRA is being amended to remove certain of the existing exemptions. While some material will remain free from classification, the changes are profound enough to have independent DVD labels extremely worried.

You’re no doubt aware that all labels are facing huge problems from online piracy — if a film can be illegally grabbed for free, why buy it? Well, a lavish suite of DVD extras is a damn good incentive to slap down the cash. But additional BBFC costs will place a huge strain on already tight budgets: this means fewer extras will be produced. Inevitably, some labels will go to the wall — as a direct result of Government legislation.

It’s important to note that these problems are unintentional: these changes are a response to parental pressure to do something about saucy music videos. Targeting physical media, though, seems a curiously toothless response in the age of YouTube: these changes look set to harm independent DVD labels and do nothing about the issue you’re ostensibly trying to address.

According to the documents that lay out these changes, they were the result of a detailed consultation. However, none of the labels I have spoken to were even aware of the changes until very recently. I must ask: did the DCMS consult with ANY independent labels about the changes?

Given the impact these changes will have on businesses, I hope you’ll reconsider the changes to the VRA, to prevent unintended damage. It also seems worth asking if you are prepared to meet representatives of the independent DVD labels and hear their concerns directly. Ask them nicely and they might even give you some of their discs. Then you can see for yourself just how good they are and why it would be such a loss if any went under. If you want any recommendations, I’m happy to oblige.

Yours etc.
James Oliver

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