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The Ivors Academy calls for solidarity against buyouts

Graham Davies, CEO raises the alarm on the worsening outlook for composers being commissioned for screen.

Graham Davies © Dave Brown

The Ivors Academy is raising the alarm of the worsening outlook for media composers based on our latest survey and news from US broadcasters such as Discovery Channel.


At The Ivors Academy of Music Creators we represent thousands of composers and songwriters, from well-established professional musicians earning their full-time living from music to those just starting out in their careers.

Our membership has become increasingly concerned. Buyouts of rights, sometimes termed ‘direct licence’, ‘work for hire’ or ‘direct source licence’ are becoming increasingly common in the US raising concerns that these agreements will soon be forced on UK composers.

A dangerous precedent

These fears have been exacerbated by the latest demands coming from Discovery Channel who are reported to have informed their composers that with effect from 1 January 2020, they must give up all performance royalties paid for US airings and sign away their ability to collect on past shows. There will be no subsequent relicensing of fees for reuse worldwide.

This sets a dangerous precedent. Composers who sign up to these terms are giving away all their rights for a single upfront fee. Many composers, including our own, have raised concerns that these upfront commissioning fees have been declining in recent years, that they often do not cover all the costs involved in the commission, and there is little incentive or likelihood that broadcasters and platforms will raise these fees in the future. The opposite is expected to be the case.

The actions of Discovery are unacceptable, and no composer should sign up to these demands. The position adopted by Discovery is symptomatic of a wider trend that poses a threat to viability of media composing in the UK and beyond. While UK composers who are members of PRS have had the safeguard that their performing right will not be taken or devalued by virtue of it being assigned to PRS, this safeguard is now also under threat. UK composers see US multinational broadcasters and platforms pitching their work to UK and non-UK composers in a global competitive market.

Any wider adoption of Discovery-style buyout agreements must be refused because they put downward pressure on composers to relinquish their rights and undermine the important role played by PROs such as PRS. For most composers, the ‘back-end’ royalties paid by PRS provide the funding for composers’ careers. They are vital and must be defended.

Buyouts erode the value of collective rights management

The threat to these future income streams increases as traditional broadcasting gives way to over the top streaming. We found evidence of this concern in a recent survey we undertook of UK media composers:

  • 70% have worked for free
  • 64% have seen commissioning fees decrease
  • A majority believe back-end royalties will decrease in future
  • 64% believe the current commissioning process to be unfair/coercive
  • 89% wish to see the introduction of a Code of Good Commissioning Practice

UK composers put their concerns to representatives of the BBC, Sky, Netflix, PRS and MCPS at a recent Ivors Academy event last month. The message given was mixed:

  • Composers should be encouraged by the growth of streaming and increasing demand for commissioned content.
  • Composers should be pragmatic about the need to negotiate on fees and be flexible with the rights they will give based on the individual job and their reputation.
  • Some broadcasters like Sky are unequivocal: any Sky commission will only be given in return for 100% of the publishing being acquired by Sky. This includes cases where a composer may have an existing publishing agreement.
  • Other broadcasters such as the BBC believe in the principle of a negotiation over publishing.
  • Netflix are clear that a performing buyout agreement is only available to US composers with non-exclusive rights and for usage on their platform.

Navigating this confusing market is challenging. Composers who stand up for their rights fear being added to the ‘blacklist’ of people who will not give away all their publishing rights, or risk missing out on being on the ‘whitelist’ of those who get repeat commissions based on their willingness to give away their rights, rather than the quality of the music.

Composers are at risk of the ‘blacklist’

A common refrain heard by composers from commissioners is that the up-and-coming generation of composers are willing to take the new contracts without complaint. The more established composers are characterised as hanging on to ‘out of date’ models.

The Ivors Academy disagrees. Composers have fought for decades to assert and defend copyright as a moral and economic right. These rights sit with the composer and should not be hollowed out by broadcasters and platforms that see music as a cost, rather than as an integral and important part of the content that drives their businesses.

Having worked tirelessly to bring about protections in the European Copyright Directive to improve the bargaining position of music creators, increase remuneration where it is found to be disproportionately low and a reversion mechanism where agreements are found to be disadvantageous, the Academy is calling on composers, publishers and the music industry at large to show solidarity in rejecting the advance of commissioning buyouts.


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