Voiceover work for radio programs, documentaries, audio-books and adverts is starting to be advertised online at a much lower rate than fees offered through traditional agencies.

UK performers could face falling wages thanks to the gig economy, experts warn

The gig economy could drive down wages and de-professionalise the UK voice-over industry as jobs are increasingly advertised online, experts have warned.

Academics are investigating if new internet platforms designed to bring competition to the UK voice-over industry could cause low pay rates.

Voiceover work for radio programs, documentaries, audio-books and adverts is starting to be advertised online at a much lower rate than fees offered through traditional agencies. Although these companies are operating within the law, legal experts are investigating the likely legal impact of opening up voice-over jobs to anyone – not just performers - in this way.

Researchers have discovered it is not unusual to see clients and production companies advertise for voice-over job with payment going as low as £65 or £130. The current hourly standard rate in the industry for professionals is often around £250.

The recording fee compensates voice-over actors for the time and skills spent in the studio to produce the recording for a client. Currently most voice-over artists do sign away the intellectual property rights to their work, but are compensated financially for it through a “usage fee”. Lower wages would mean they no longer receive this usage fee, so would be giving away these rights for free, because the pay is not generous enough to cover the artist’s time and the assignment intellectual property rights.

The research into pay and contracts used in the UK voice-over industry is being led by Dr Mathilde Pavis and Dr Huda Tulti from the University of Exeter. They are conducting a survey so performers can share their experiences.

Dr Pavis said: “The process of recruiting anyone – amateur or professional – through these platforms in order to produce content could drive prices down because they introduce more competition and a new business model. It could lead to a loss of skills and professionalism. Voice-over artists are a key strength of the UK’s creative industry, but if they are forced to accept harder and harder bargains this could change.”

“It is right legally that voice-over artists should own the intellectual property rights to their own performance, and if they chose to surrender these rights they should be paid a standard financial rate in compensation, as happens now. Intellectual property rights ensure that artists receive remuneration, a “royalty”, that is proportionate the “usage” of their work by clients. The more or the longer the work will be used by a client, the more the artist should be remunerated.

“We risk rights disappearing out of the back door of this current situation of companies pushing the boundaries continues, and the law needs to play catch-up to. It is fine to use new ways of commissioning work, but this must comply with the law.”

The survey results will help academics recommend changes to the law – which could include making pay rates connected to the time taken to complete the work, and the amount it will be used afterwards - but the team want to hear evidence from those in the industry before they finish their work. They are sharing their findings with Equity’s Audio Committee. Around 180 people have now taken part in the survey.

Usage fees are calculated according to the type of recording and on the basis of the use a client will make of that recording. The more and the longer a recording is used by a client, the more the voice-over artist should be paid. For example, a standard fee for the use of a recording on a company’s website for 12 months would average at £250.

The academics are analysing the terms and conditions offered by the online platforms. Many ask creators to transfer all intellectual property rights in the content to the purchaser. Some platforms impose standard-form contracts on their customers and prices are often capped or controlled to be below standard rates.

Dr Pavis said: “By imposing standard-form contracts these platforms hit copyright and performers’ rights right in their Achilles’ heel: their ability to be assigned away for low or close to no financial remuneration. Vulnerable to weak bargaining power, an artist who is not in a position to negotiate a favourable contract will not be able to leverage his or her intellectual property rights to receive a reasonable level of remuneration.”

In 1992 EU countries introduced ‘equitable remuneration rights’ which means producers and broadcasters redistribute a portion of the revenues generated by the communication to the public back to the relevant authors and performers. The offers mentioned above seem to fall below what would be considered equitable remuneration under UK law.

This research could help to improve pay and conditions. Dr Pavis said: “By reminding platform users of the importance of remunerating creative labour fairly they could create new ‘creator-friendly’ terms and conditions, including avoiding asking people to give up their rights for no purpose or without remuneration. This could lead to better quality work.”

The survey will be open until 31 March 2019 and is available at www.exeter.onlinesurveys.ac.uk/fair-pay.

Date: 25 March 2019

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