At this year’s Special Representatives Conference, the Audio Committee proposed a motion, requesting that Equity join other unions and industry bodies calling for equitable remuneration rights in streamed and online media to be included in the UK Copyright Act. The motion was passed unanimously, committing Equity to actively campaigning for this.
The wording of the motion and the amendment from the Screen & New Media Committee (which also passed), can be found here (Page 10): https://www.equity.org.uk/media/5609/src-final-agenda-2021.pdf
To understand what this means and why we believe it’s of such great importance for our members we have posted below the full text of the speeches made by Committee members Marcus Hutton, proposing the motion, and Cameron McGarva, seconding. They worked together to ensure that both speeches complemented one another without being repetitive in nature or content.
With thanks to both of them.
This motion concerns the lack of usage payments for audio performers when their work is commercially exploited online
During the last 18 months a great number of members have built home recording studios in the hope of picking up some audio work to keep themselves afloat – from commercials and corporate video to audio books and e-learning narration. Many are unrepresented by audio-specific agents and have looked to job sites like ACX, Mandy.com, Voice 123 etc to seek auditions and work. A large percentage of the jobs advertised are for flat fees with many not mentioning usage at all. It is not possible to bargain with employers for these jobs which are offered on a take-it-or-leave-it basis regardless of the amount of exploitation their recordings will receive. There is little or no transparency about the reach or financial scope of the projects and, of course for every one person who says no to a job on principle there are another 99 who will say yes.
While UK performers have a statutory right to equitable remuneration for the broadcast of pure sound recordings under UK copyright law , no such provision exists for streamed content. In this digital age the majority of spoken word audio content is streamed. Advertising spend online now exceeds the spend on traditional broadcast media.
At the beginning of the year, a government enquiry into the economics of music streaming took place. The final recommendation from the enquiry-committee’s report to government was that the existing statutory remuneration right in music recordings be extended to streamed content. It is quite ridiculous that the right exists for one system of communication to the public, but not for another.
Record labels, the musicians union, prominent musicians, collecting societies and online platforms all gave evidence. Equity could, and we believe should, have made their presence felt at this enquiry. Spoken word audio, particularly audio books and podcasts – sectors that are worth hundreds of millions of pounds, were not mentioned once. No one from Equity piped up to say “don’t forget about us”.
Spoken word audio artists, unlike their TV, theatre and film acting counterparts, have very few collective agreements to protect them. There are no collective bargaining agreements for audio books. There are no collective agreements for e-learning , for online video advertising, corporate videos, explainer videos, video games, animation, telephony., apps. The likelihood of there ever being collective agreements in the majority of these sectors is, in the Audio Committee’s opinion, small to non existent .
Amazon who owns Audible will not even discuss a collective agreement; the games companies don’t want to pay anything for usage; the commercials dispute still continues after twenty years although there are some signs of a thaw the IPA still refuse to have a formal agreement. A host of advertisers outside the IPA do not even belong to a trade association.
Due to Brexit the UK did not have to implement the EU Copyright Directive. It came into force this June and has granted our European counterparts rights which greatly enhance individual bargaining positions. It has also replaced ‘equitable remuneration’ with ‘Appropriate and proportionate remuneration’. Proportionate being the important word. EU performers now have the right to transparency in their negotiations – they must be told the expected platforms for the work at the negotiating stage and the expected reach; large employers will have to provide details of how the work was exploited at least once a year. European performers also have the right to revisit their contracts where it can be proved that initial payments were ‘disproportionately low ‘. These rights cover streamed content.
We are in danger, in the UK, of becoming the poor relation in the digital arena when it comes to performer’s rights . Without collective agreements our audio members need the safety net of the law to improve their individual bargaining positions with employers. The Intellectual Property Office is currently in a period of consultation over the Beijing Treaty and it is NOW that we need to be making some noise on this issue. Please vote for this motion so that action is taken before it is too late.
Marcus has talked about the legalities of the ratification of the Beijing Treaty and why the Audio Committee urges Council to take action. I would like to expand on what he touched upon, and that is the very human element of the need to protect the rights of audio artists in the UK.
Establishing and then sustaining a career as an actor, audio performer or however you identify is no mean feat. We belong to an industry steeped in uncertainty, a lack of security and risk so any way that further protection of our rights as artists can be secured surely can only be a positive step forward. You may of course not identify as an audio performer and feel that this does not affect you, we would argue that it may well do in the future. To offer an example of such, a theatre producer colleague cited her difficulties to me as she is now very much working in the audio world, employing actors in audio plays and podcasts, most of which will be streamed online. She spoke of not knowing where to turn in terms of ensuring those very actors were remunerated correctly and rightly, the notion of having a solid legal framework in which to base their contracts struck her as being vital to ensuring the longevity of such work and of course avoiding exploitation of those she was seeking to employ.
We have seen a proliferation of home studios, partly in response to the Covid-19 pandemic but also in part as our industry landscape is changing and it is changing now and fast. There are more and more people engaging in audio work, not just those who would traditionally call themselves voiceover artists and so we have a duty to ensure they have the knowledge and protection to prevent them from financial exploitation. The audio world is a minefield, even to those who have worked within it for many years. We face daily challenges when our clients continue to drive down the remuneration for our services and it is a very worrying time. Flat fees are becoming common place and just taking a look at the casting breakdowns on the various sites such as Mandy, Voice123, ACX, Voices.com, Bodalgo and Fiverr you can see how without intervention artists will continue to be at the mercy of employers seeking their talent but not willing to appropriately pay for it.
Without statutory streaming rights the ratification of the Beijing Treaty will amount to very little as so much of the work that audio artists do is online. Established artists will be the poor cousin of our European counterparts and upcoming artists will merely flounder or never quite get off on the right footing. We urge council to campaign for streaming rights as a part of the copyright reform for performers. We, the Audio Committee ask that you support this motion wholeheartedly. Thank you.