PRS For Music deputy chairman Simon Darlow attacks 'intolerable' buyout contracts

PRS For Music deputy chairman Simon Darlow attacks 'intolerable' buyout contracts

Songwriter, composer and PRS For Music deputy chairman Simon Darlow has defended composers’ rights at the Creators Conference in Brussels.

The speech flagged up an increasing problem for composers and publishers: studio buyouts.

Darlow spoke about buyout contracts, how they impact creators’ remuneration and what can be done to improve the situation. The practice involves a film/TV studio, TV streaming platform, broadcaster or video game company obtaining the rights of the creator in exchange for a one-off fee.

“The transfer of these rights is all too often a precondition of the commissioning process,” said Darlow. “The buyout of the mechanical right has become standard practice in the US and the UK. Although there are still companies which will share mechanicals with the composer, buyouts are becoming increasingly common here in Europe.

"More and more, however, we hear of composers also being forced to surrender their performing rights. This is also against a background of shrinking fees, which makes the situation intolerable.”

Execs from Wise Music Group and Manners McDade have raised the issue of buyouts in recent Music Week interviews. Former PRS For Music CEO Robert Ashscroft has described buyouts as a big challenge for the business.

Composer Hildur Gudnadottir was subject to studio buyouts for both her BAFTA and Golden Globe winning score for Joker and Grammy-winning score for Chernobyl.

We must encourage the next generation of composers to be strong

Simon Darlow

Last year Discovery Networks US said it would require a complete buyout of the performing and mechanical rights in the future and a waiver of rights for all works previously commissioned by them.  

“Whilst a significant backlash from the creator community forced Discovery to abandon this proposal, it is a clear indication of the direction of travel if left unchecked,” said Darlow.

Earlier this year, the Ivors Academy held a consultation with its members on the practice of buyouts in the UK. It showed that 41% of creators said they had been required to give away more of their mechanical rights than they wanted. A further 35% said they have been subject to full buyouts or work for hire commissions in the last five years.

The 2020 edition of the Creators Conference organised by European Composer and Songwriter Alliance (ECSA) was held at Théâtre du Vaudeville in Brussels. The event focused on current and upcoming EU policies affecting the lives of creators, including the Creative Europe programme, which provides financial support to culture and audiovisual sectors and the EU Copyright Directive.

Darlow’s writing credits include songs by Grace Jones and Shirley Bassey. His music fronts UK TV shows including BBC News, the Premier League and Top Gear. 

Darlow has routinely turned down buyout contracts, but acknowledged that young composers are the “most at risk of being exploited”.

“It is up to those who have been fortunate like myself, to not give up our rights and be vocal about it,” he said. “We must encourage the next generation of composers to be strong too. ECSA of course is an ideal platform from which to do this. So, let’s be loud and proud of our work and our right to fair remuneration.”

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