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Don't leave Australian screen composers behind in industry reform

Media Published Thursday 8 October 2020

The Australian Government’s screen industry reforms announced last week offer some measure of reform but don’t go far enough to fully realise the potential Australia has to become a more globally facing and dynamic exporter of audio-visual content.

“With new local quota requirements for legacy platforms likely to impact production of kids, documentary, comedy and drama programs; reduced obligations of Pay TV and no regulation of the streaming platforms to invest a percentage of revenue back into the industry for the commissioning of local content, Australian audiences will miss out on vital and important local stories,” said Antony Partos, President of the Australian Guild of Screen Composers.

“There is now a greater risk that creatives, composers and small businesses in the local industry will be left behind in a fast-changing global landscape.

“Australia succeeds best when the screen industry tells our stories, not just through our voice and our images, but with an Australian soundscape like those in Shine, Bluey, Mystery Road and Priscilla: Queen of the Desert. Whether it’s a film or television series score, the tune to an advertisement, or the soundtrack that brings to life a documentary or children’s television show, this country has some of the most talented screen composers in the world and we need to protect this talent and safeguard against the erosion of fees and their intellectual property,” he said.

The increase of the Producer Offset to 30 per cent for television production is welcome but there remains a huge opportunity for the Australian Government to further invest in the creation and commissioning of Australian screen content beyond funding Screen Australia and the Australian Children’s Television Foundation, to fully celebrate local skills and talent.

Both the Australian Guild of Screen Composers and APRA AMCOS urge the government to not lower the feature film producer offset and include a cultural uplift of 10 per cent to incentivise the use of local creators and harmonise rates at 40 per cent.

The risk of not doing this is a policy approach that rewards productions that bring in non-Australian heads of department including Screen Composers with tax-payer funded tax breaks and cementing a loss of Australian intellectual property to overseas ownership.

Screen music sources which include TV, Video and Cinema generated some $110m in royalty revenue alone in 2018-2019 which was distributed by APRA AMCOS to creators. This represents a significant contribution to Australia’s creative economy and provides a bedrock for the livelihoods of local screen composers.

“The recently published screen industry content options paper highlighted how the media landscape and method of consuming media is fast-changing. There are ways the Australian Government can better support local screen composers that will incentivise, protect and promote the value of creative intellectual property as well as ensure the sustainability of the whole screen sector,” said Dean Ormston CEO APRA AMCOS.

“Every dollar the government spends should be ensuring an Australian job, and future sustainability of the industry. Funding structures and screen industry incentives must better support local talent with eligibility criteria that stipulates the engagement of local screen composers and musicians.

“Significant Australian Content should also include screen composers as key creative and Heads of Department in all cases where public funding or incentives are in place.

“Enhancing the public incentives to help protect the use of local screen composers and Australian music content is becoming increasingly essential to not only support the viability of local screen composers but to also recognise the potential domestic and global revenue for locally produced content and its accompanying intellectual property value,” he said.

In a National Press Club address in August, APRA Chair Jenny Morris set a vision for Australia to become a net exporter of music by 2030. A Goldman Sachs report into the international music market released in May estimates global industry revenue will soar to around US$140 billion by 2030. Australian screen composers, songwriters and publishers have the potential to earn, at least, a 5% market share of this if the Australian Government gets the framework right.

With COVID-19 devastating the local industry, never has it been more important for Government to look for effective policy setting to support the viability and potential of small, innovative, digital and globally facing Australian businesses. The Australian Government has a massive opportunity, but it still needs to get the framework and incentives right to ensure a sustainable industry with a future.