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Ivors Academy and Musicians’ Union launch campaign against buyouts when music is commissioned for TV, film and ads

By | Published on Tuesday 30 March 2021

Ivors Academy

The UK’s Ivors Academy and Musicians’ Union have launched a new campaign urging songwriters and composers writing music for TV and film productions, or advertising campaigns, to be wary of deals that involve them assigning all the rights in their work to the studio or agency that commissions them. Such deals are known as complete buyouts, and the new Ivors/MU campaign is titled – simply – Composers Against Buyouts.

When music-makers are commissioned to create music bespoke for an audio-visual project, a key question is who will own both the song rights and the recording rights that are created.

The music-maker could seek to retain ownership of all the rights, and then provide the commissioning producer with a licence covering all direct use of the music in the production it is being commissioned for. That would then give the music-maker control over any future use of the music outside the original production, and might also generate extra royalties for the composer when even the original production is broadcast or screened.

However, many studios and agencies now seek ownership of at least some of the rights in the music they are commissioning. Though to date, even when that is the case, the performing rights on the songs side would be excluded. Those would instead be assigned to the music-maker’s collecting society which would collect royalties every time the music is broadcast, screened or streamed, including in the original production the music was commissioned for.

In more recent years though, some broadcasters, especially in the US, have been seeking complete buyouts, where they would control the performing rights in the song as well as the mechanical rights and the recording rights. In 2019 it emerged that Discovery Networks in the US was pressuring such deals on the music-makers it works with, although it backtracked on making such arrangements compulsory after a backlash in the music community.

Nevertheless, such deals are becoming more common in the US. Technically, any songwriter or composer that is a member of a collecting society outside of America can’t sign up to such an arrangement, as at least the performing rights in all their music automatically goes to their society. However, it’s feared such deals will still become increasingly common, particularly as broadcasting becomes an increasingly global digital-centric business.

A songwriter-led campaign against complete buyouts in the US called Your Music Your Future recently launched a global version of its website in partnership with CISAC, the international organisation for song right collecting societies. Ivors and the MU are following their lead with a UK-centric campaign. The two organisations reckon that a key part of this is educating music-makers about the ins and outs of commissions, copyright deals and buyouts, so that they know what to look out for when assessing and negotiating deals.

Launching Composers Against Buyouts, Ivors and MU say in a joint statement: “Composers for TV, film and advertising are increasingly being asked to sell their work for an upfront fee, a buyout, which means they lose out on royalties over time”.

“The Academy and MU are standing with media composers against such short-sighted business practices and calling for rights to be respected. The campaign aims to raise awareness amongst media composers, provide educational support to composers at the start of their career, and set standards when composers are commissioned by broadcasters”.

Ivors Academy CEO Graham Davies adds: “As a community of composers and songwriters, The Ivors Academy has long opposed buyouts and championed royalties. Our campaign aims to empower and support media composers to successfully negotiate with commissioners and sustain their careers”.

Meanwhile, Ivors member and music-maker Hannah Peel says: “Understanding the business of composing is complicated, with composers on all different types of contracts. It’s so important that we educate ourselves and each other about what to look out for so we can make a living and sustain our careers”.

And composer David Arnold comments: “Music brings films and programmes to life and creates an emotional connection like nothing else. It may not be visible, but it is truly tangible, and the people that create this amazing music should have their rights protected, not eroded”.