Under agreements with the member companies of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and other producer organizations, the Writers Guild of America, West, Inc. (WGAW or Guild) and the Directors Guild of America, Inc. (DGA) receive and distribute “foreign levies” – monies payable under foreign laws to writers and directors of copyrighted works in the United States. These monies are remitted to the WGAW and DGA by foreign collection societies, and represent payment for three types of exploitation of audiovisual works: private copying (on videocassettes, DVDs and other storage media), video rentals and cable retransmission.
The Guild currently collects foreign levies from 19 countries in Europe, Latin America, and Asia. Since its inception in 1990, the FLP has distributed over $193 million to writers and their heirs and beneficiaries. For a complete list of foreign collection societies participating in the program, please click Countries and Collection Societies Remitting Levies. For a complete description of the types of levies and royalties collected, please click Type of Levies and Royalties.
The mission of the foreign levies program is to provide writers of audiovisual works (and the heirs and beneficiaries of deceased writers), with an effective presence in foreign countries which have enacted copyright levies to ensure the equitable distribution of such funds. The Guild issues payments in accordance with distribution schemes provided by the foreign collection society.
Recordkeeping and tax reporting
Every foreign levy distribution includes a payment detail reflecting the amount of the payment, the country of origin and, where available, the title of the work for which the payment is being made. The Guild issues Form 1099s to all foreign levies payees who receive more than $10 in a calendar year.
The information used in administering the foreign levies program comes from a variety of sources.
For works covered by a WGA collective bargaining agreement, the WGAW distributes foreign levies based on Guild-determined writing credits. This is the same information used to distribute residuals under the WGA Theatrical and Television Basic Agreement (MBA). Payment is allocated among multiple writers according to fixed percentages: Written By credit receives 100%; Screenplay By or Teleplay By credit receives 75%; and Story By credit receives 25%.
The Guild also maintains information about projects not covered by a Guild agreement. This data base is the product of research conducted by the Foreign Levies Department since the program began distributing funds in 1990. The Guild is continuously updating its data base of members, non-member writers and heirs and beneficiaries who are entitled to receive foreign levies. The redesigned website, which allows individuals to register works and to search lists of names and titles for which information is currently lacking, is a valuable part of this research effort.
All foreign levy funds are held in a segregated trust account pending distribution. While the goal is to distribute funds as quickly as possible, a variety of circumstances may prevent distribution:
- The foreign collection society does not provide a distribution scheme.
- The distribution scheme is inadequate or inaccurate.
- Titles in the distribution scheme cannot be identified. (Distribution schemes frequently contain titles in a foreign language or translated into English from a foreign language, and therefore different from the original English titles.)
- The credited writer identified in the distribution scheme cannot be identified or located.
- There exists a dispute or other uncertainty as to the lawful payee.
- The amount of the payment is so small as to make distribution uneconomical. Small payments will be aggregated until they reach a threshold (currently $100) and then distributed.
Funds are held in the trust account only as long as necessary to permit proper distribution.
The distribution of funds received is based on the data supplied by the foreign collection society. The distribution scheme normally specifies the pro rata share for each title according to a point system. Based on the point system, the Guild determines the total payment attributable to each title. The payment is then allocated to the credited writers according to the following percentages: 100% for Written By credit; 75% for Screenplay By or Teleplay By credit; and 25% for Story By credit. Where there is a writing team, the members of the team share equally.
Financial support for the foreign levies program comes from two sources: interest earned on funds held in trust and administrative fees assessed on foreign levy distributions. The amount of the administrative fee is subject to periodic review and may not exceed ten percent (10%). The fee is currently set at 5%.
Foreign levies program staff is available to help writers and beneficiaries with inquiries about the program. Please contact us by phone (323) 782-4725, fax (323) 421-9390, or email at Foreign Levies Info.