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Defining films and 'British'

The first British legal definition of a 'film' or 'cinematographic exhibition' was included in the Cinematograph Act 1909, which refers to 'an exhibition of pictures or other optical effects by means of a cinematograph, or other similar apparatus, for the purposes of which inflammable films are used, shall not be given unless . . .' Not exactly clear. This was amended by the Cinematograph Act 1952 to read 'No cinematograph exhibition (as defined in the Cinematograph Act 1952) shall be given unless . . .'
        The 1952 definition of 'cinematograph exhibition' was 'an exhibition of moving pictures produced on a screen by means which include the projection of light'. The Film Levy Finance Act 1981 defined 'film' to include 'any record (however made) of a sequence of visual images, which is a record capable of being used as a means of showing that sequence as a moving picture'.
        The Cinemas Act 1985 finally consolidated the previous Cinematograph Acts and managed to repeal four whole Acts. A revised definition of 'film exhibition' (further amended by the Broadcasting Act 1990) was given as meaning 'any exhibition of moving pictures which is produced otherwise than by the simultaneous reception and exhibition of programmes included in a programme service (within the meaning of the Broadcasting Act 1990)'. [Previously this had excluded television programmes broadcast by the BBC, Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) or by 'a cable programme service which is, or does not require to be, licensed under section 4 of the Cable and Broadcasting Act 1984'.]
        Not long after the Films Act 1985 repeated the definition of 'film' from the 1981 Film Levy Finance Act. However, 'film' can specifically exist in the form of a negative and its soundtrack, a master film tape and/or master audio tape, and a master film disc or master audio disc.

A definition of 'British' was required for the Cinematograph Films Act 1927, which introduced a minimum quota of screen time that had to be devoted to British films, which had to be registered as such. To qualify, the 'maker' of the film—'the person by whom the arrangements necessary for the production of the film are undertaken' (ie, producer)—had to be British, as had the scriptwriter or author of the scenario. The production company had to be 'constituted under the law of some part of the British Empire, the majority of the voting power of which is in the hands of persons who are British subjects' (a clumsily worded provision in which grammatically the 'power' relates to 'part of the British Empire' rather than the production company). Studio scenes had to be shot in a studio in the British Empire and at least 75 per cent of the labour costs (excluding copyright payments and the salary of one actor, actress or the producer) had to be paid to Britons or persons living in the British Empire.
        The Films Act 1980 included as 'British 'any country that is a member state of the European Community.
        The Film Levy Finance Act 1981 adopted the definition of 'British' given in the Films Acts of 1960 and 1970 'as they have the effect for the purpose of determining whether a film registrable under the Films Act 1960 is registrable as a British film'.
        The only mention of British films in the Film Policy White Paper of 1984 was to note that the register would cease to be compiled. However, the resultant Films Act 1985 gave an extensive definition of 'British' in Schedule 1.


Page created 4 May 2001
David Fisher