Composers file complaint about broadcasters with EC

By | Published on Tuesday 6 March 2012


The European Composer & Songwriter Alliance last week filed a complaint with the European Commission over a trend that has developed in the broadcasting industry of late, in which broadcasters increasingly insist that composers commissioned to create original scores for programmes assign the copyright in that work, in its entirety, over to the commissioning media company. The complaint names broadcasters from the Netherlands, France, Italy, Denmark, Austria and the UK, including the BBC, BSkyB and ITV, as contributing to this trend.

Broadcasters are presumably increasingly seeking ownership of original music created for their programmes to reduce the licensing work required every time they find new routes to exploit archive content. One issue for broadcasting companies in the digital domain is that capitalising on new distribution platforms with old programmes has often required returning to past collaborators who have a stake in part of that content to secure new rights, work which can make pursuing new distribution opportunities unviable. Some broadcasters may also have ambitions to directly exploit music created for their TV shows.

But composers say that royalties earned on future use of their TV work, whether via ownership of the rights in it, or at least some kind of contractual royalty arrangement, have traditionally been essential, alongside initial commission fees, to ensure composers have an income they can live off. Giving up copyrights on new commissions can cost composers over 50% of their future revenue, the Alliance claims, which for many makes it impossible to operate as a jobbing composer.

The Alliance want the European Commission to get involved on the basis that there are relatively few major broadcasters in Europe, giving them an overly dominate position, and enabling them to pursue unfair ‘Give Up Your Rights Or Fuck Off’ policies (my term, in case you wondered). The European Commission’s Directorate General For Competition must now decide whether the Alliance’s complaint falls within their remit and, if they do, a fuller investigation into the situation may follow.