CISAC – the global grouping of song right collecting societies – has teamed up with Your Music Your Future to launch a new globally-focused website to educate songwriters and composers about the ever-increasing trend in the broadcast market for companies commissioning music to seek so called buyout deals.
Traditionally when music-makers are commissioned to create original music for a TV show, movie, game or ad campaign, the music-maker would seek to retain ownership of the copyright in the music they create, and then allow the broadcaster, studio or brand to use it via a licence.
Such an approach means that, in addition to any upfront fee, the music-maker receives additional royalties each time a programme, film or advert is broadcast, screened or streamed, paid via the collective licensing system. They can also control use of the music beyond the original production or project it was commissioned for.
However, over the years things have changed. In Anglo-American markets, it has become common for those commissioning music to seek to take ownership of the so called mechanical rights in the composition. The performing rights would not be part of the deal though, and would still be controlled by the music-maker’s collecting society, and would therefore generate additional royalties.
More recently, however, especially in the US, you have started to see some broadcasters seek complete ownership of the copyright in the music they commission, including performing rights. That’s the complete buyout. It means the music-maker gets a one-off fee and the broadcaster doesn’t have to pay any additional royalties each time a programme is aired or streamed.
Launching its new website, CISAC says that the traditional approach to commissions, where music-makers retain their rights, “is increasingly being challenged by companies who insist that composers accept buyouts of their rights – including performing rights – as a condition of being employed or commissioned for a project. In this scenario, composers are expected to create music in exchange for a one-time fee instead of receiving continuing income for their work”.
“The works of songwriters and composers – just as of screenwriters and directors – are an invaluable and inextricable part of the storytelling in film, TV and all other audiovisual media”, it adds. “Traditionally, royalty income has been the only dependable source of earnings for these creators. The growing practice of buying out their rights changes the remuneration equation with important implications for creators’ careers”.
This trend towards complete buyout deals became newsworthy in 2019 amid reports that Discovery Networks in the US was planning on forcing that arrangement on all the music-makers it works with. Netflix was also criticised by some for pressuring composers into these kinds of deals. Although Discovery did ultimately say it wouldn’t force anyone into complete buyouts.
Around about that time, a group of American music-makers created an initiative called Your Music Your Future to educate the creative community about the ins and outs of different deals, urging composers to be careful about what contracts they agree to when negotiating commissions. CISAC has now teamed up with Your Music Your Future for the new globally-focused website.
Outside the US, collecting society rules actually usually stop complete buyouts, certainly when it comes to performing rights, and sometimes for mechanical rights too. And in some countries, copyright law itself prevents such deals from happening.
However, in an increasingly global marketplace, and with increasingly global video-on-demand streaming services, US-style practices are being exported. Society rules and even local copyright laws can also potentially be circumvented to an extent by deals signed in the US that include co-publishing or work-for-hire arrangements.
The new website considers technicalities and trends in different markets around the world, seeking to make music-makers aware of the things they need to be looking out for when making deals, and identifying protections the music community at large might want to seek through copyright reform.
Supporting the new global site, the founder of Your Music Your Future in the US, Joel Beckerman says: “This is a movement, for composers by composers, to educate our community on the choices with respect to performing royalties. The aim is to bring this vital educational message to all music creators everywhere. As music creators we are all in this together, and education is the key to ensuring their ability to support their families and put food on the table”.
CISAC President Björn Ulvaeus adds: “In the post-COVID world, the issue of copyright buyouts matters more to creators than ever before. Artists, composers and authors have to be aware of their rights, understand their options and make informed choices on the way they are paid. Their future livelihoods depend on it”.
You can access the new website here.