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How can composers oppose buyouts? Our campaign one year on

One year on from launching our #ComposersAgainstBuyouts campaign, we take a look at what’s needed to tackle the problems surrounding buyouts.

On 31st March 2021 the Ivors Academy and Musicians’ Union launched #ComposersAgainstBuyouts – a campaign to raise awareness around buyout deals in audio-visual commissioning, and how these deals impact composers and the wider industry.

A buyout deal is where the upfront fee is used to acquire rights and royalty revenue associated with the music.

The campaign was launched on the back of the increasing and often coercive pressure composers were coming under to accept buyout deals. The damage that buyouts had already caused across the sector was evident; composers were feeling the financial strain, but they were also worried about what the media commissioning landscape might look like in years to come if exploitative buyouts were allowed to continue.

We reviewed various contracts and deals that our members had been offered. It became evident that many of the buyouts also involved other unfair terms that composers were expected to sign up to, including package fees whereby a one-off fee would need to cover all elements of a commission, but which would often leave a composer actually earning little to no fee at all.

Ultimately, there was a lot that could be done to improve these deals, but leaving composers and their representatives to attempt to negotiate better deals on an individual basis wouldn’t necessarily effect the bigger change that was required to ensure fair commissioning terms for composers going forward.

Hence the need for a dedicated campaign with clear objectives and the expertise and resources to make a difference.

Since launching the campaign, so far we have:

• Published a Fair Commissioning Manifesto to set out basic expectations and values around the commissioning process

• Created and shared an animation that explains the difference between buyouts and deals that allow composers to receive royalties

• Established an Advisory Group comprising experienced media composer members of the Ivors Academy and the MU to help steer the campaign and work with us on the creation of more resources

But what actions are required next to realistically tackle the problems with commissioning being experienced, from those working at a grassroots level up to those working with major broadcasters and production companies?

One problem composers can face is the lack of a formal contract setting out terms and conditions. Another is those occasions when buyouts are presented as a fait accompli, with commissioners grabbing rights and refusing to negotiate.

To begin to address this we will shortly be publishing a specimen TV commissioning agreement, drawn up by an industry specialist lawyer, for composers to use in situations where the commissioner isn’t forthcoming with a contract. This will allow composers to present a fair and professional contract that protects their future interests.

This specimen agreement will be accompanied by comprehensive notes that explain the terms and clauses, and we plan to produce further specimen agreements under the campaign banner later this year.

We have drafted a Code of Practice which we’ll be taking to broadcasters to open up discussions around their commissioning processes.

We are currently taking the campaign into Higher Education Institutions to help ensure that the media composers of tomorrow are pre-warned about unfair commissioning practices, and to encourage them to understand the true value of their music, and how that should be reflected in contracts.

The recent news relating to Moonbug Entertainment and their coercive practice of requiring composers to re-assign to the company their performing right royalties as a condition of the commissioning contract demonstrates how exploitative and damaging the commissioning process can be, further strengthening the importance of this campaign.

But not all commissioners and not all buyouts are bad. We are also keen to highlight the fair deals and good commissioning practices that composers experience in the sector, as this will prove invaluable to fellow composers who need the confidence and expertise to push back and negotiate when faced with a less favourable or exploitative deal.

We’re delighted with the support that has already been shown for the campaign by composers and their representatives, and are excited to be moving into Phase 2 during which we plan to engage more closely with commissioners, expand the resources available to support media composers working at all levels, run a series of related member webinars and take every opportunity to raise awareness of the issues associated with buyouts.

If you would like to become involved in the campaign by sharing your experience, please contact:

Jenny Goodwin, Research & Campaigns Consultant – jenny.goodwin@ivorsacademy.com

Kelly Wood, Live & Music Writers Official – Kelly.wood@themu.org



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