Insights Intellectual Property Office publishes research into Buyout Contracts in the UK Audio-visual Commissioning Sector


This research was commissioned by the IPO to examine a key aspect of the market for music commissions in the UK audiovisual sector (AV): so-called “buyout” contracts between commissioners and composers for screen.

These “buyout” contracts are becoming increasingly common due to new-entrant Subscription Video on Demand services commissioning more and more content in the UK. Payment in such agreements is limited to one-off fees at the “front-end” of the deal, with music creators required to waive any claim to potentially valuable “back-end” royalties. Further, these deals are increasingly offered on “take it or leave it” terms. Such developments have profound implications for music creators’ earnings in the streaming age.

Three research methods were used:

  1. a survey of 69 media composer contracts provided by the Musicians’ Union;
  2. focus group discussion with media composers; and
  3. semi-structured interviews with key stakeholders, including trade organisation representatives, collective management organisations, music publishers and screen commissioners.

The main findings of the research are:

  • opportunities for AV commissions have greatly increased in the streaming age, but there are a great many more creators active in the marketplace;
  • commissioners suggest that originally commissioned works have become more attractive in order to ensure control of the music component of AV content in an increasingly complex and fragmented licensing landscape;
  • a number of contributors noted the importance of being able to trade-off “front-end” and “back-end” dimensions of a commission but intimated that this had become more challenging in a market increasingly characterised by “take it or leave it” terms;
  • there was consensus from music creators and trade organisation representatives that “front-end” commission fees have declined while the “back-end” dimensions of screen commissions have also been eroded in the digital age;
  • the majority of contracts surveyed did not constitute full buyouts of music creators’ rights as the “writer’s share” of public performance royalties remains a significant element that commissioners cannot buy out in the UK; and
  • while some rights are routinely licensed/assigned/waived in contracts, there was general agreement that protections afforded in respect of unassignable aspects of performing rights should be upheld.

The research also identifies areas of potential further research:

  • examination of the extent to which any increase in opportunities for media composers in the streaming age has affected opportunities for new commissions for media composers from underrepresented groups;
  • a large-scale survey of agreements between AV commissioners and music creators in order to examine the key features of such deals and how these have evolved over time;
  • research involving different constituencies of writers for screen, including those at the start of their careers, to gain better understandings of creator motivations and contract negotiation processes; and
  • an examination of the potential for a music commissioning code of practice to be implemented, using relevant comparators from relevant sectors/industries.

To access the research report, click here.