Over a third of professional songwriters in the UK say they have been “subject to full buyouts or work for hire commissions”.
That stat was revealed by PRS for Music Deputy Chairman, songwriter and composer Simon Darlow on stage at the Théâtre du Vaudeville in Brussels yesterday (February 3), during the 2020 edition of the Creators Conference, organized by the European Composer and Songwriter Alliance (ECSA).
Darlow, whose writing credits include songs by Grace Jones and Shirley Bassey and whose music fronts some of the most popular shows on British TV today including BBC News, the Premier League and Top Gear, delivered a speech in which he discussed buyout contracts, how they impact creators’ remuneration and what can be done to improve the situation.
The event focused on current and upcoming EU policies affecting the lives of creators, including the Creative Europe programme, which provides financial support to culture and audiovisual sectors and the EU Copyright Directive.
According to Darlow, The Ivors Academy (formerly The British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors) recently consulted with its members on the practice of buyouts in the UK and found that 41% of creators said “they had been required to give away more of their mechanical rights than they wanted”.
A further 35% of those surveyed said “they have been subject to full buyouts or work for hire commissions in the last five years”.
Darlow added that the trend “manifested itself in the most extreme manner” in 2019 when Discovery Networks in the US proposed a now-abandoned buyout policy, which would have seen composers asked to agree to the deals, or risk having their work removed from Discovery’s programming.
“The next generation of composers face a bleak future, where they no longer own their rights and their works generate no income for them.”
“Young composers are the most at risk of being exploited, eager as they are to get work and build their careers,” said Darlow.
“The next generation of composers face a bleak future, where they no longer own their rights and their works generate no income for them.
“To be balanced, however, an upfront payment for rights is not always a bad option for a composer.”
You can read his speech in full below.
The practice referred to as a buyout is when a producer, typically in the audio-visual or video game sectors, obtains the rights of the creator in exchange for a one-off fee.
The transfer of these rights is all too often a precondition of the commissioning process.
The buyout of the mechanical right has become standard practice in the US and the UK. Although there are still companies which will share mechanicals with the composer, buyouts are becoming increasingly common here in Europe.
More and more, however, we hear of composers also being forced to surrender their performing rights. This is also against a background of shrinking fees, which makes the situation intolerable.
This trend manifested itself in the most extreme manner at the end of last year when Discovery Networks US stated it would require a complete buyout of the performing and mechanical rights in the future and a waiver of rights for all works previously commissioned by them.
Whilst a significant backlash from the creator community forced Discovery to abandon this proposal, it is a clear indication of the direction of travel if left unchecked.
Earlier this year, The Ivors Academy held a consultation with its members on the practice of buyouts in the UK. The most striking results of the survey are those which show the true nature of the relationship between producers and creators. For example, 41% of creators said they had been required to give away more of their mechanical rights than they wanted and a further 35% said they have been subject to full buyouts or work for hire commissions in the last five years.
Young composers are the most at risk of being exploited, eager as they are to get work and build their careers. The next generation of composers face a bleak future, where they no longer own their rights and their works generate no income for them. To be balanced, however, an upfront payment for rights is not always a bad option for a composer.
There are instances where such practices are in the best interests of the creator because of the nature of the work or the markets in which it will be used. As an example, I’m in the middle of some work for a Middle Eastern TV company where performing rights are barely recognised, so a good fee and the maintenance of all my rights should there be any further international exploitation was the best deal I could do.
For the record, I’ve never done a complete buyout and would not, but in general buyouts devalue the composer’s worth considerably. The key is that it must be the choice of the creator to decide, not for the producers to dictate.
It’s the very purpose of copyright, to allow the rightsholder the freedom to control the use of their work, their property.
The solutions are many, if not easy. We need to ensure the copyright protections around the world work in protecting creators and their rights. Equally, the creative community needs to stand together on this issue and say with one voice that we will not work on these terms.
I am privileged to have a career as a songwriter and composer. I’ve had hits with artists such as the Buggles, Dollar, Grace Jones, Toyah, Cliff Richard, Shirley Bassey and others. I have composed for numerous TV programmes such as BBC News, the Premier League, Top Gear and Shanghai TV News.
I have been offered buyout contracts and have always refused them, because I won’t work on such terms. But I am one of the lucky few.
Copyright has been central to my living for about 39 years and I would not be here talking to you about this without it. The residual use of all the songs and pieces of music I have written over the years have been central to my income and enabled me to sustain a career.
It is up to those who have been fortunate like myself, to not give up our rights and be vocal about it.
We must encourage the next generation of composers to be strong too. ECSA of course is an ideal platform from which to do this. So, let’s be loud and proud of our work and our right to fair remuneration.
Music Business Worldwide