More than 10 years in the making, an international treaty aimed at protecting actors’ rights is due to be signed in Beijing in the coming week. Backed by UN agency WIPO, the World Intellectual Property Organization, the treaty would extend economic and moral protection for film and TV performers. It’s geared more towards actors in emerging markets, or those where collective bargaining is not already in place. In many countries, actors whose work is sold overseas have no legal recourse for payment, nor do they have recourse if work is distorted in a way that could hurt their reputation. Ratification of the Beijing treaty by the 185 member countries would set a clearer international legal framework for those artists.

The treaty is backed by such stars as Meryl Streep, Sonia Braga and Javier Bardem. Bardem recently said, “Remuneration for the rights as an actor are very crucial. Not for people like me, but for that 90% of people that really have a serious problem making a living from what they are doing.” The treaty is designed in part to take a stance against piracy. In a recorded video message at the opening of the Beijing conference today, Streep said, “This is a pivotal time in the performers’ battle for intellectual property protection. While digital technology creates a wealth of new opportunities for performers, it also significantly increases the risk of performers losing control over their very own work product… In the same way that writers and composers depend upon royalty income for their survival in the long term, performers around the world must benefit, as well, from income from the exploitation of their work.”