Getting Used to Voiceover Usage Fees
7 reasons it’s worth knowing about usage in a UK voiceover project
By Chas Rowe
Imagine you’re Ed Sheeran.
Imagine you had the world’s biggest selling single of 2017 (Shape of You).
Imagine your track getting heavy rotation on radio stations around the world.
Imagine earning multi-platinum sales in 32 markets.
Imagine 4.7 billion views (and counting) on You Tube.
Imagine how happy you would be, knowing that your creativity and musical skills were universally appreciated.
Then imagine that you only got paid once for turning up to the studio for an hour and laying down your vocals.
Imagine how you would feel about that.
You wouldn’t think that’s fair, would you?
In reality, of course, Ed Sheeran was adequately compensated for his talents and tunes in 2017.
But in the voiceover industry, public performance fees, or what voiceover artists call usage fees, can be at risk – whether that’s from people being unaware of them, poorly researched budgets, or sadly, wilful evasion.
If you didn’t know about voiceover ”usage fees” or ”licensing” before, that’s ok. This article aims to help with that. So if you find it useful, please bookmark it and share it. And if you have any questions or comments, please get in touch.
Now, let’s move on to our 7 reasons why it’s worth knowing about usage in a voiceover project.
Reason #1: Usage Is A ”Thing”
If you’ve ever wondered if voiceover usage ‘is a thing’ (you know the popular expression), then yes, absolutely, it is.
In fact, when booking a UK voiceover artist, it’s important to factor in to your budget two key ‘things’:
- the cost of hiring your artist for the recording (the ”session fee”)
- the cost of using their recording in public afterwards (the ”usage fee”)
Add these two things together and that’s the overall cost of your project.
Shorthand for this is:
BSF + usage
(basic session fee + usage)
Usage fees or licences are not some arbitrary invention. They have their roots in UK law – which we’ll explain in a moment.
So when booking a UK voiceover artist, think of the project like a cassette tape. It will only play with both holes – the recording and usage – moving in the same direction.
Which would be this way: —>
And if you’ve not heard of audio tapes, well, let’s just fast forward, shall we?
Reason #2: Usage Is Central To The Laws Around Sound Recordings
The second thing you should bear in mind, when looking to hire a UK voice-over artist who asks you about usage, is UK law.
Like musicians, voiceover artists retain ”performers’ rights” to their vocal performances.
Voice-over performances can be sold with a full assignment of rights, or licensed for use for an agreed purpose and period of time.
Here are some examples:
- corporate video, company website only, 12 months
- explainer video, company website + company You Tube channel only, 24 months
- TV commercial, all media including platforms yet to be invented, across all time and space, resurrected every Christmas, long after both parties are dead
The first two are licences (with usage clearly stipulated).
The third is referred to as a full assignment of intellectual property rights, or a buy-out in perpetuity (and a rather megalomaniacal one at that).
However, under either of these models, whether that be a full assignment of rights (a buy-out), or a licensing arrangement, UK law states that:
- performers’ rights last for a minimum of 50 years from the end of the year in which the recorded performance is released
- performers are legally entitled to ongoing payments for the use of their recording(s) in public, irrespective of whether their intellectual property rights have been sold or licensed
And this is where the TV commercial agreement in the list above, the buy-out in perpetuity, runs into trouble.
”The right to fair payment for sound recordings is called the equitable remuneration right”, explains Dr. Mathilde Pavis, a lecturer in intellectual property (IP), copyright, and contract law at the University of Exeter.
”Equitable remuneration rights were implemented into the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act in 1996 and they are an unwaivable right.
”This means that whatever a contract says, a performer cannot be denied their legal right to seek equitable remuneration for the ongoing use of their intellectual property – in this case, their vocal performance – when it continues to be used in public.
”This further means that even if an artist has assigned their performers’ rights to a recording, they can still be entitled to a fraction of the revenue generated by that recording, or at least be entitled to fees proportionate to the commercial use of that recording.”
”So strictly speaking, in UK law, voice-over buy-outs aren’t really the end of the transaction.”
You’ll probably be surprised at learning this.
So what happens if a client has budgeted incorrectly for usage in a voice-over recording? Or not properly declared the extent of the usage of that recording? What then?
Dr. Pavis continues: ”Artists who’ve received disproportionately unfair payment deals, in this case usage fees, could make a legal claim at the Copyright Tribunal.
”Depending on their case, a judge could award backdated or future payments, or both.
”Of course, this would be a legal last resort and any parties in dispute would have to weigh up whether litigation is right for them – and seek their own legal advice.”
POSSIBLY REPLACING THIS PART BELOW:
Speaking of legal advice, xxxxxxxxxx, who is an intellectual property lawyer at law firm, xxxxxxx, offers his own:
”The law is clear. The more widely you want to exploit, use or publish someone’s intellectual property – in this case, their recorded performance – the greater the payment should be.
”What that fee ends up being is ultimately up to the parties involved, but I would advise clients against agreeing to any fees that are disproportionately low when compared against many uses of their performance in public.
”In perpetuity, in all media agreements are just a way of getting around the law, which the EU Copyright Directive in 2019 sought to address.”
Reason #3: Usage Is Key To Quoting
Of course, it goes without saying that going to court over usage fees is a worst-case scenario, which most people would want to avoid at all costs.
Speaking of costs, the next thing you need to know when hiring a UK voiceover artist is how to get a quote.
So bearing in mind your planned usage, think really carefully about exactly how your recording will be used.
Write down how many uses you want (e.g. company website, You Tube), and how how long you want them for (e.g. 12 months).
It’s also worth bearing in mind these questions:
- What type of business are you?
- What genre of voiceover is your project (commercial, corporate, explainer, on hold, awards ceremony etc.)?
- Where is the recording going to be used (TV, radio, online etc.)?
- How many platforms or products will the recording be used on (e.g. if it’s an advert, will it be shown on TV, web, You Tube pre-roll, and on demand, or some other combination)?
- How many times?
- How long (1 week, 12 months etc.)?
- Who is the audience?
- How many people will see/hear it?
- Where in the country/world will it be heard/seen?
- How many words are in the script?
- Will the recording be re-used at a later date (e.g. every Christmas)
- Will it be reversioned?
- What are the TVRs (for TV adverts) or impressions (for online video adverts)?
- What’s your proposed budget?
- How dated is this video/audio going to look/sound in 12 months? And therefore, why am I insisting on a buy-out in perpetuity?
It’s important to know the answers to the above, and conceivable others, not only because seasoned professionals will ask them, but also because it will help you get fair and accurate quotes based on your particular needs.
So have a good think, be specific, and stick to your usage plan.
As a further aid, here’s a non-exhaustive list of voiceover genres, which would be expected to incur usage fees**:
- Audio podcasts
- TV bumpers (e.g. weather sponsors)
- TV commercials
- Cinema commercials
- Radio commercials booked through advertising agencies
- Web commercials
- Web explainer videos
- Non-commercial web-based content
- Pre-roll videos (e.g. ads on You Tube before, during or after a video)
- Internet radio
- IVR/on hold systems (telephony in the US)
- Corporate (where content is shown publicly)
- Medical narration (where content is shown publicly)
- Audio guides
- Single ADR (where a TV/film actor revoices unusable on-set lines at a later date)
- Video games
- Animation films/series
- Broadcast ”Voice of God” announcements (e.g. the MTV awards)
- Points of sale (e.g. car showrooms)
Once you’ve given your own project a full interrogation, you’ll be well equipped to choose and approach an artist for a quote.
They will also appreciate getting your full and final brief.
Reason #4: Usage Is Key To Contracts
As explained above, knowing precisely how you’re going to use a voice-over recording not only helps an artist to quote fairly and accurately, but it also forms the basis of your contract.
This is another important legal point, because using the recording for a purpose not specified in your agreement represents a breach of contract.
So make sure that you agree a recording fee, usage fee, licence period and permitted media with your artist – and confirm this in writing. Email is fine, but some artists might send you a document to sign and return. Once the work has been done, the artist’s invoice will reconfirm the details.
If you decide – at the end of your licence, or at later date – that you want to reuse the recording, you must tell the artist, who will set (or negotiate) a fee for the revised usage.
This effectively ”relicenses” the recording for whatever purpose and terms you’ve both agreed, leaving you free to continue using their performance under a new licence.
Remember: not relicensing a recording – by continuing to use it beyond your agreed terms – is both a breach of contract and a breach of the artist’s performers’ rights.
And as many contract lawyers will tell you, breaches of contract may be heard in court.
So think: Reuse -> Relicense -> Repay.
Reason #5: Failure To Declare Usage Is Costly
If you’ve been completely clear, compliant, prepared and professional in your usage contract or licensing agreement, everything in your voiceover booking should go fine.
But if you haven’t, you could find yourself in a bit of a mess.
Consider the story of a voiceover artist who found out that their performance in an old TV advert had been repurposed in a brand new campaign, without their knowledge, permission or with respect to their original agreement.
As whoopsies go, it was a pretty big one, which led to some awkward conversations, slapped hands and red faces later.
So if you want to reversion a recording beyond the terms of your original agreement, also think:
Reversion -> Relicense -> Repay.
Reason #7: Knowing About Usage Is Your Job
As the above points make clear, if you work with UK voiceover artists – whether directly or indirectly – you need to make it your business to know about usage and licensing.
It’s important to your professional credibility and to establishing a good, professional relationship with the artist, or artists, you work with.
It will also be very important to your client if you’re acting on their behalf.
If you know your stuff, you’re prepared, and you know exactly what you want, you’ll look professional. It’s that simple.
And a professional UK voice-over artist will appreciate that, respect that, feel valued and be ready to do a great job for you, your business, and/or your client.
So put your money (or your client’s money) where their mouth is – and you will reap the rewards of being part of a detail-driven, creative, productive, professional partnership.
And that way, usage won’t just be a ‘thing’.
It won’t even be a ‘thing’ for you to get used to.
Usage will just be that ‘thing’ you do…
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The above expert-sourced and peer-reviewed article does not constitute legal advice. Any parties seeking further information on legal terms or considering a Copyright Tribunal claim should seek their own legal advice from a qualified legal practitioner or trade union legal department.
About the author
He holds degrees in French and German, Film & Television Studies and Multimedia Journalism.
To hire Chas for your next voice-over project, or to discuss syndication of this article, please email: [email protected]
© Copyright Chas Rowe 2021