Publishing

Discovery Networks Reverses Decision to Buy Out Composers' Music Rights, Will Continue Paying Royalties

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The reversal followed a major outcry by composers and songwriters over the company's decision to impose licensing contracts on music creators.

Discovery Networks is singing a new tune on compensation for composers.

Following a massive outcry by the music creator community, the media company has reversed a previous decision to enforce buyouts of composers’ music rights -- a move that would have resulted in deep cuts to composers’ incomes -- and will instead stick to the long-established performing rights model that pays out backend royalties for their work.

The reversal was first noted in a statement released Thursday by the Production Music Association, which represents many composers of Discovery-owned shows and had vigorously protested the decision. The statement specifically thanked Shawn White, Discovery’s vp global music.

“We have been informed today by Discovery Networks that in regard to performance rights, Discovery has decided that their US channels will remain operating as is under the traditional PRO performing rights model,” said the organization in a statement. “The PMA would like to personally thank Shawn White and everyone at Discovery for this decision. We greatly appreciate this and look forward as a community to working together with Discovery to provide their programming with the best quality music possible.”

A representative for Discovery Networks confirmed the reversal with Billboard.

Revealed in December, Discovery Networks’ original decision to impose licensing contracts (also known as “direct source licenses” or buyouts) on composers of its programming -- including shows on Discovery, Animal Planet, the Food Network and HGTV -- came as a major blow to composers who have long depended on future royalties collected and distributed by performing rights organizations ASCAP, BMI and SESAC. In a statement at the time, the Production Music Association estimated this change would have reduced revenues from scoring Discovery programs between 80 and 90%.

Also reacting favorably to the reversal was the National Music Publishers' Association, whose president and CEO David Israelite released a statement Friday (Jan. 24).

“We are pleased Discovery Networks has chosen to no longer challenge the established system of paying composers performance royalties,” Israelite said. “Attempting to avoid fully and fairly compensating composers would have devastated countless creators and set a dangerous precedent. Other networks should take note and avoid threatening the livelihoods of songwriters and composers by pushing them into upfront payment models that ultimately devalue their work.”

As Israelite indicates, Discovery isn’t the only media company to have come under fire recently for attempting to skirt paying out composer royalties. At the Council of Music Creators (CIAM) General Assembly in Budapest last October, concerned composers and songwriters took part in closed-door meetings with Netflix lawyer Carolyn Javier regarding allegations that the streaming service was regularly seeking buyouts from songwriters and composers during negotiations. Earlier that year, a group of North American composers led by Miriam Cutler, Carter Burwell and John Powell reacted to these claims (the company, which refers to these buyouts as “direct licenses,” has denied they are mandatory) by launching the online initiative Your Music, Your Future to educate their music peers about their rights. (The initiative now boasts over 11,000 signatories including Pinar Toprak, John Debney and Bear McCreary.)

Composers have also lodged similar claims against Facebook, with several alleging the social media giant pushes aggressively for buyout contracts for composers who work on its Facebook Watch programs.