The passion of Jost Vacano

One man’s struggle for justice came to a conclusion in Munich recently when cinematographer Jost Vacano BVK ASC achieved a landmark decision, which also has important ramifications for cinematographers everywhere. He was awarded half a million Euros in compensation against the producers and distributor of the series Das Boot (1981), for which he was Oscar-nominated, plus a 2.25 percent share in all future earnings.

A fundamental principal of copyright law in Europe describes an “author” as contributing a personal and intellectual creativity to a project. It took courage and belief in the justice of his case for Jost Vacano to embark on this hazardous legal journey involving considerable financial implications with no guarantee of success. The 82-year-old veteran suffered many setbacks: personal finances were depleted by well over 50,000 euros as the case progressed over the three layers of German judiciary: although now restored to good health, the pressures occasionally had taken their toll.

The Supreme Court judgement is a massive step forward; it recognises the cinematographer as an “author”; Vacano’s initial contractual payment was adjudged by the Supreme Court to be not for his work, but for the use of the film by the producer; the ruling was that this original payment only covered the “normal” use of the film (in the case of television, just three screenings).

Two further appeals are forthcoming: one by Jost Vacano for interest payments for the money he would have earned (in 2002, a change in German copyright law gave authors the right to participate in turnover); the other by Bavaria Film, the producers who made 9.5 million Euros in the 12-year period 2002-2014. Eurovideo which holds DVD and VOD rights earned over 11 million Euros.

Jost Vacano had been given moral and practical support by the German Society Of Cinematographers, the BVK, during the eleven years since initial requests for transparency were made to the programme makers. We should all salute the supreme courage of Jost Vacano in his fearlessness by standing up fair remuneration as the reward for his creativity. His innovative techniques created lasting images of claustrophobia, despair and hope, which will long live in film history.

IMAGO is pledged to continue promote authors’ rights through the European Parliament. The Authorship Committee was re-established in Rome on July 28th under the auspices of IMAGO’s legal adviser, Cristina Busch, senior advisors Vittorio Storaro AIC ASC and Jost Vacano BVK ASC, members Simon Plum DFF, Luciano Tovoli AIC ASC and Nigel Walters BSC