Earlier this week, Directors UK CEO Andy Harrower appeared before the Culture, Media and Sport (CMS) Select Committee at an oral evidence hearing on the subject of Creator Remuneration.
Led by CMS Committee Chair Dame Caroline Dinenage MP, it was a wide-ranging session which examined the importance of fair pay for freelance creators, and how to bring about significant, impactful changes to how creators are remunerated.
These are long-standing issues, brought into sharp focus when many freelance creatives were locked out of support schemes introduced during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and that haven’t improved since.
We gave evidence alongside other organisations who manage and collect royalties on behalf of creators (including writers, actors and performers, and visual artists) – and we were able to reflect the realities of working in the creative industries today.
From fair pay to freelancing, from the impact of the WGA and SAG AFTRA industrial action in the USA to AI, the Committee’s questions were varied. Here’s how we represented directors at the hearing:
The ever-changing nature of the industry
In an industry that relies on freelancers, Andy drew the Committee’s attention to the fact that “the majority of our members make a very modest income from directing, and royalties are an important part of that”.
He highlighted the precarious nature of working as a director, especially when there’s a slowdown in work, like we’re currently seeing, and an uncertainty about where your next job might come from, emphasising the reduced financial security of being freelance.
When asked about the impact of this on barriers to working in the industry, Andy shared this from one of our members: “The last twelve months have been the worst that I have ever seen in our industry. The downturn in commissions has been particularly challenging and, as a disabled director, that has been even more profound”.
He told the committee about the impact the domestic slowdown in commissioning is having on directors, and all freelancers. Thousands of you have found yourselves in the very difficult position of not having work lined up, or having increasingly long gaps between projects, particularly those working in factual.
Andy stated that Directors UK want to work more closely with broadcasters to understand how their commissioning cycles work, and minimise the peaks and troughs for directors in the future.
Richard Combes, Deputy CEO at ALCS also raised that a Freelance Commissioner must be considered. Highlighting that, as we saw during the pandemic, many freelancers fell through the gaps in Government support. An experienced, credible and independent Commissioner would give Government a dedicated understanding of the sector, vital as freelancers are so important to the creative community.
Working with streamers
We spoke about the challenges around streaming services and royalties and residuals in the UK. We explained that, typically as a copyright holder, you assign your copyright to the production company often with no agreement for residuals, or for a buyout, as part of your employment contract.
As these types of agreements are made prior to your programme or film being streamed, it is impossible to know how successful it will be, or its future value. Andy reflected that when work is scarce, “it’s more tempting to sign on the dotted line”. But it’s important that directors do get a better deal through royalties and residuals when working for streamers, as the way it currently works is highly imbalanced and does not benefit you.
Andy pointed to the principle of proportionate remuneration that many European countries use, and how this principle might be used to redress the balance.
The Smart Fund – how a private copying levy would help freelance creators
Andy and his fellow speakers recommended to the Committee that the UK Government should introduce a private copying scheme into law to compensate creators and performers, and to protect income from overseas by creating reciprocity between the UK and other countries.
They shared the idea of The Smart Fund, a proposal from Directors UK, ALCS (writers), DACS (visual artists) and BECS (actors and performers) where technology manufacturers would pay a small fraction of the value of each device they sell into a fund that is paid out to creators, paying a return to you for the use of your works on digital devices.
Reema Selhi, Head of Policy at DACS added that The Smart Fund “will address issues of creator remuneration for a wide range of creators and performers. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel: it echoes private copy levies in 45 countries, which are established and successful. Government is in a prime position to make a workable solution fit for the UK, which would bring vital income to underpaid creators and performers.”
AI and freelance creators
The Committee also asked questions about AI, trying to better understand how these advances in technology could impact and affect artists’ image rights and creators’ copyright.
Andy said that, since the invention of cinema, directors have been working with changes in technology, and that you “always want to use technology to support, rather than replace, the creative process”.
He told the Committee that it’s essential that we ensure there is no exception to copyright when it comes to the use of AI in film and TV production, and when original content is ingested and processed into AI databases.
Speaking on your behalf, Andy told the Committee: “The sad reality is that the creative industries are dependent on underpaid creators and workers. That’s why we met with the Committee today; to ensure directors’ income is protected and that they are fairly paid”.
Recently, we collected your responses to our snap survey about working life as a director. As part of our written evidence, we shared experiences from directors working across genres and formats, at different stages of their careers, from different backgrounds, with the Committee. We also submitted a number of detailed case studies to share a clear picture of working as a director today.
The DCMS Select Committee is expected to produce a report after this session, and we’ll keep you updated on their findings.