The Supreme Court: LSSR Public undertaking Rīgas Kinostudija copyrights on films produced during Soviet period have ceased to exist on the basis of law
31 January, 2017
On 31 January the Department of Civil Cases of the Supreme Court in written proceedings reviewed the cassation appeal of Latvian state (in the person of the Ministry of Culture) and the Latvian Filmmakers Union and 44 film authors against the Riga Regional Court judgment of 22 April 2014 in claim of Latvian state against AS "Rīgas Kinostudija" on the recognition of copyrights on 973 films produced by Latvian SSR Public undertaking "Rīgas Kinostudija" that were made during the period from 1964 to 4 May 1990, and in claim of the third party for recognition of copyrights for these films.
The Supreme Court found that the copyrights belonging to legal persons about which the dispute was initiated, have ceased to exist at the latest on 15 May 1993 with the entry into force of the law "On Copyright and Related Rights" and with Latvian legislators’ failure to adopt a law that would ensure the continued existence of mentioned rights. Consequently, such rights cannot be owned neither by AS "Rīgas Kinostudija", nor by the State. The rights of authors – individual persons, whose creative work resulted in the production of above-mentioned films, continue to exist and protection of such rights can be implemented according to general procedures.
The Supreme Court recognized that in order to settle the issue of ownership rights and the resulting dispute between the parties about the violation of such rights, first of all, it is necessary to find out what rights exactly the dispute has been initiated about and whether such rights exist at all. The judgment concluded that, in accordance with the Civil Code of the Latvian SSR the copyrights was not an object of property, which in turn plays a role in assessing the case relevant circumstances, including whether and to what extent the rights continued to exist even after the entry into force of law "On Copyright and Related Rights" of 15 May 1993.
Having evaluated the Soviet civil legislation and cognitions of legal doctrine, the Supreme Court concluded that in Civil Code of the Latvian SSR "the copyrights of legal persons" were considered special rights that are different from the authors’ rights in the modern sense. When analyzing whether these specific rights have continued to exist even after the law "On Copyright and Related Rights" entered into force on 15 May 1993, the court found that there was no such corresponding rights stipulated by the law of the Republic of Latvia, and such rights also were not taken up in amended form.
Modern law recognizes that only natural person can be author - the creator; and it means that no legal person who ever organized or is organizing the creation of a film cannot be its author.
The Supreme Court also stated that it is essential to take into account that when Latvia regained independence, there was a transformation of the legal system. Thus, for the copyrights of legal persons, including copyrights of the Latvian SSR Public undertaking "Rīgas Kinostudija", to continue to exist in legal system of the independent Republic of Latvia, the Latvian legislature ought to take them over. The judgment found that the legislator intended to regulate the issue on films produced during the Soviet period independently, but adequate regulatory framework has not been adopted until now. In such circumstances, it cannot be held that the contested rights have continued to exist.
Taking into account the finding of the Supreme Court on expiration of copyrights of the Latvian SSR Public undertaking "Rīgas Kinostudija" no later than 15 May 1993, it no longer made any sense to address the issue of the fate of mentioned copyrights in the privatization process, which took place in 1997.
With regard to the authors, namely the natural persons whose creative activity resulted in production of disputed films, the Supreme Court concluded that their copyrights exist on the basis of law and they need not to be re-confirmed by a court judgment. If the film authors' rights are violated, then each author has the right to address the court regarding specific violations. The appellate instance did not receive a third party claim, which would be directed to prevention of a specific violation.
Latvian state in the person of Ministry of Culture addressed the court with a claim of copyright recognition, prohibition of use of the works and recovery of damages in lawsuit against AS "Rīgas Kinostudija". An action against the Latvian state and the AS "Rīgas Kinostudija" on copyright recognition and recovery of damages was also brought by Latvian Filmmakers Union and authors of films produced during the Soviet period. Riga Regional Court rejected both claims with the judgment of 22 April 2014. The Supreme Court upheld the judgment under appeal unchanged, because, although it did not agree with certain findings of the Regional Court, the outcome of the case contained in the judgment is correct; namely, it is not possible to satisfy the claims. The fact that the AS "Rīgas Kinostudija" do not own the copyrights on films created during the Soviet period is already evident from the judgment of the Supreme Court.
Judgment of the Supreme Court is available here
Information prepared by: Rihards Gulbis, Scientific Adviser to the Department of Civil Cases of the Supreme Court