How Performers Are Protected & Paid

Performers are also protected by the law. Performers might also be authors – such as a singer/songwriter (eg the members of Spinal Tap), or a screenwriter who is also an actor, but those different roles will be protected and rewarded by different legal mechanisms. A basic distinction is that an author is creating a copyright and a performer is supplying services – their performance either live, on film or recorded.


As suppliers of services, performers are protected and paid slightly differently from the way authors are treated, when their performances are exploited. You will see some of the contractual differences in various longer articles in the Library section for composers, songwriters, recording artists, directors, screenwriters, actors and musicians.


Performers will be contracted and paid an upfront fee for their services and will usually be required to give formal consent for the recording, and subsequent exploitation, of those recorded performances. Both authors and performers are the talent – the vital resource upon whom the music and film industries depend. The income paid to the talent can be affected by national differences and in addition, there are general agreements between countries about how they will operate protections of, and pay money to, each other’s authors and performers that make up the world’s pool of creative talent.


In a great many countries performers will have a right, on top of their upfront fee, to be paid royalties related to the exploitation of the film, or recording, in which they appear. These royalties arise in one of two ways:-

Either by agreements concluded by a CMO (collective management organisations) with users of films, songs or recordings (such as broadcasters or digital services) that pay licence fees to the CMO. These so-called “blanket licence” fees are paid, along with usage information that the CMOs use to allocate money to the appropriate song writer, performer and/or right owner.

Or, in the USA, a residual system operates. These residuals have developed as a result of decades of negotiations by the US talent guilds (Talent Advocacy Groups) and are calculated by reference to a specific pre-determined percentage of the revenue from the work.


It is worth noting that musicians (featured or contracted artists and session musicians) have the right in nearly 100 countries, to be paid a royalty when their commercial recordings are broadcast, or performed, in public. The money is collected and distributed by a CMO in each country. The shameful exception is the USA, which only allows for this revenue source for digital radio. And even then, only for recordings made after 1972! This leaves scores, if not thousands, of heritage recording artists unpaid at a time, in their later lives, when they have more need of this income than ever. See also Shocking Facts for other ways that the media companies pocket royalties without sharing them with the talent.


P.S. Checkout the Fairness Rocks Library for a longer piece on how recording artist are contracted and paid (or not) and the current contracting and remuneration model for actors. An example of a residuals chart from the DGA is also in the Library.

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