Asia Pacific international symposium highlights need for global education on copyright buyouts and issues five key recommendations

Headshots: Shuinichi Tokura, Björn Ulvaeus, Alice lee, Gadi oron

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March 26th, 2021 - Composers and songwriters across the world need to get educated on the growing practice of copyright buyouts by the producers, broadcasters and platforms using their works.

Buyouts are an increasingly common way for companies to license composers’ works, requiring the creator to surrender any possibility of future royalties in exchange for a single upfront lump sum fee. Although music creators may sometimes prefer a buyout to royalties, there is a critical need for them to understand the implications of the decision on their careers.

The issue is getting more important because of the impact of the global pandemic, making creators more dependent on income from audiovisual subscription platforms, but in a weaker position to protect their rights in the licensing negotiation.

This was the message delivered at the first international symposium dedicated to the issue of buyouts, keynoted by CISAC President and Abba co-founder Björn Ulvaeus and organized by the Asia Pacific Music Association (APMA) in coordination with Japan music society JASRAC.  

Panel discussions, moderated by APMA General Secretary Satoshi Watanabe and involving CISAC DG Gadi Oron and intellectual property expert professor Alice Lee, highlighted the increasingly complex negotiating landscape as creators face pressures to accept buyouts of their works without having adequate knowledge of their rights and options.

Björn Ulvaeus said buyouts played no part in his early songwriter career when there was an assured flow of royalties from his national society. “Using my experience, I can say to young songwriters: they need to be educated and advised on what it could mean to them if they go for a buyout. In the end if you have a song you’ve written with you heart and is dear to you and which you think is a really good song, then to let people buy it out completely could be very tragic - very sad. If you really love the song, then absolutely don’t let them buy it out”.

CISAC Director General Gadi Oron said raising awareness of the implications of buyouts is now a top priority for the confederation and its members worldwide. In February, CISAC partnered with the 15,000-strong US creators’ movement “Your Music Your Future” to launch a global education campaign on the issue. “Your Music Your Future International” explains the legal context for buyouts, their implications on creators’ career options and the factors which are making buyouts more prevalent around the world. 

“Buyout is a global problem and it affects creators of all repertoires, whether music, audiovisual, video games or other sectors. All creators are facing a similar situation, with a lack of choice, a lack of negotiating power and a lack of information on what this means for their careers. What we’re doing at CISAC is help explain to creators what could be the consequences of buyouts. That is why we joined up with Your Music Your Future.

“The campaign is not about telling creators not to sign a buyout agreement.  It’s about equipping them with the knowledge to make the right decision. When they sign a buyout, it could mean a loss of control and an inability to earn royalties in the future and share in the future success of the song”.

APMA Chairman Tokura Shunichi said that as an emerging composer in Japan, he experienced buyouts many times and saw them as good source of income. But the issue has become far more important in today’s market due the multiple ways available for creators to earn income.

“When we talk about buyouts, what we want to focus on is the problematic buyout or the subjugated buyout. That is when a dominant party forces a deal with the young creator who cannot repudiate. If you want to say no, you have to have a knowledge of what your rights are. When you are a young songwriter, you are so happy to have your song published or broadcast or streamed and you’ll do everything for it, just to have your name there. But remuneration is a different issue, and it takes time for a young creator to learn that. Education is the word.”

Hong Kong Professor Alice Lee presented her detailed study, commissioned by APMA and CISAC, of the legal environment in eight countries and territories in the Asia-Pacific region. Professor Lee focused on moral rights, unfair contract laws, creators’ right to equitable remuneration under those laws, revocability of copyright laws, ownership of works in employee and commissioned works, and existence of education campaigns on copyrights issues in the regions surveyed. 

Professor Lee outlined five key recommendations for action:

  • Regulate unfair terms in copyright buyout contracts
  • Grant creators the right to equitable remuneration
  • Require buyouts contracts to include an option for the creator to revoke the contract incase of non-exploitation
  • Encourage fair and transparent dealings between parties, for employee and commissioned works
  • Organise public campaigns to raise awareness of copyright issues

A Phase 2 report on the Copyright Buyout study in Cambodia, China, India, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan and The Philippines, is expected to be published in April 2021.