Screen composers seek levy from streaming services

Photo by Troy T on Unsplash

The rise of streaming services has given consumers more accessibility to movies and TV shows than ever before, but serious questions need to be asked about what this means for the local screen industry. The Australian Guild of Screen Composers (AGSC) has for long been looking at ways of reversing a steadily declining Australian screen industry in the face of an ever increasing dominance of global streaming services.

In July, AGSC and APRA AMCOS made a submission to the Federal Government in response to its options paper that calls for community and industry input on ways to support Australian stories in screen media. In it, they express “grave concerns about a number of current market conditions” and call for a general 10% levy to be imposed streaming companies, SVOD (Subscription Video on Demand) services, and non-free-to-air broadcasters to fund new Australian-made content. The levy on the advertising revenue of big tech companies such as Facebook and Google/Youtube is expected to net an estimated $60 million annually.

AGSC and APRA AMCOS also propose in their submission that tech giants like YouTube and Facebook to contribute 1% of revenue generated in this country to go towards an Australian content fund.

Their joint submission can be viewed here.

AGSC advocates for Australian screen composers in film, television, gaming and related industries. Just some of the composers it has represented over the past four decades are Peter Best (Crocodile Dundee, Muriel’s Wedding), David Hirschfelder (Strictly Ballroom, Shine, Australia), Lisa Gerrard (Balibo), Chris Harriott (McLeod’s Daughters), Bryony Marks (Dance Academy, 2040), Mike Perjanik (Home and Away) and Nerida Tyson-Chew (Ladies in Black).

AGSC President Antony Partos says it is important that the voices of screen composers are heard at this time, even with much attention being concentrated on the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re in a much more perilous state than we were before this crisis,” he says. “The present time, amid the unpredictable environment of the pandemic, is an ideal opportunity to take stock of what is sustainable for screen composers, highlight the sustainability of our sector, and change the narrative surrounding what the creative industries bring to our nation and to our economy.”

“Certainly the Australian Guild of Screen Composers’ Guild, along with many other bodies, is asking that all the streaming services direct a certain a percentage allocated from their Australian-based subscriber base to commit to making Australian scripted content.”

Partos wants advocacy for screen composers to push ahead while government considers responses to its options paper.

“Now is still the time to quietly state our case and to hold roundtable discussions with government,” he says. “I want to use this time before any decisions are announced to make sure our voices are being taken into account.”

Details of how funds raised by the proposed 10% levy would be reinvested back into local industry still await consideration, but Partos says this could be done through a cultural uplift fund as described in the AGSC and APRA AMCOS submission and administered either by Screen Australia or independently.

“There could be certain grants for individual sectors to create content or it could be driven by producers to make content as well,” he says.

Intellectual property is another primary area of concern for AGSC. How composers can maintain rights to their own created work is increasingly complex in the burgeoning environment of streaming. Partos wants to see these rights upheld. So if tax offsets are introduced for onshore production in order to revitalise local industry, as suggested in the options paper, he thinks the rights of composers need to be fully protected.

“There’s been a worldwide decline in artists being able to retain their IP, so we are proposing that Australian intellectual property is also worthy of protecting, not just for cultural benefits but also for national economic reasons. So if the government is indeed looking at granting up to 40% in offsets for productions to be made, that this is done on the condition that composers’ rights are not eroded in any way.”

“My argument is that if government is handing out rebates to streaming services to make content, then at the very least the royalty base from composers, writers and directors should still be retained within the local economy. It is part and parcel of composers making sustainable careers.”

The Screen Guild particularly also wants increasing opportunities for Indigenous composers as part of any suite of changes to the Australian screen sector. Partos says he would like to see a consultative process involving Indigenous people as a fundamental part of bringing this about.

“It shouldn’t purely be driven by government and needs Indigenous composers and filmmakers to help drive the narrative. We’re finding out first and foremost how this can be assisted, and then this will be informed into the Composers’ Guild as well as APRA, and then hopefully up to Screen Australia as well.”

Taken together, all these changes would have an important flow-on effect to the many musicians, arrangers, orchestrators, sound engineers, facilities and so forth, whom AGSC works with to produce screen scores.

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