End Pay To Play Now – A statement from BASCA and its Media Committee
Composers own the works they create: this is the essence of copyright. The copyright legal framework gives songwriters and composers economic and moral rights of ownership over their musical works and allows them to earn their living. This copyright in their music, manifested in the ‘performing right’ and the ‘mechanical right’, remains the intellectual property of the composer until such time as they assign it to a publisher or other entity.
Fortunately in the UK and the EU composers have 50% of their performing right protected as it is subject to an ‘exclusive assignment’ to PRS for Music (or other Performing Right Society) that protects writers from anyone else taking or bargaining over this portion. Unfortunately this means the other 50%, sometimes assigned to an existing publisher but sometimes not, is considered up for grabs. It is becoming an increasingly common practice, and in our view bad practice, for commissioners of TV programs, including production companies, to insist that they take ‘all of the publishing’.
BASCA strongly disapproves of this forced 50% performance royalty assignment (and frequently 100% mechanical royalties too) as a condition of a composer accepting a job, but we have evidence there is now an increasingly common practice of asking TV composers to work with no upfront commissioning fee either.
We think it worth making clear that when they take publishing rights, any production company is already getting original music written, produced and delivered effectively free of charge, in that any commissioning fee paid to the composer will eventually be recouped by the appropriation of their performing and mechanical royalties; in effect, any fee is merely an advance. To expect a writer not only to part with a great portion of their potential royalty earnings but in addition supply bespoke, finished music for no fee places undue pressure on the working composer.
This commissioning policy puts the composer in the invidious position of working for nothing and receiving no back end compensation if the production happens not to be successful. Any working composer will inevitably have costs to cover, not only for their own time, but also for studios, session musicians, equipment, mixing, production and so on. Effectively one is creating a ‘pay-to-play’ scenario for such a ‘composer-investor’, one that could well lead to such practitioners getting into financial difficulties. It is unsustainable.
Any production company pursuing such practices is guilty of abuse of contractual negotiating power and is representative of inequality in the bargaining relationship between individual composers and more powerful production companies. We call for an immediate end to such practices.
Vick Bain CEO BASCA and The Media Committee of BASCA
Extracts from this statement were also published in Broadcast magazine