Screen composers call for levy on tech giants to fund Oz content


Antony Partos.

The Australian Guild of Screen Composers (AGSC) has urged the Federal Government to impose a levy of at least 1 per cent on the combined advertising revenues generated in Australia by the tech giants including Facebook and Google/YouTube.

The levy would raise an estimated $60 million annually, which would go to a cultural screen production fund for creating Australian content, the guild says. This regime would be similar to proposals being considered by the ACCC to compensate media companies for news content.

Backed by the Australasian Performing Rights Association and Australasian Mechanical Copyright Owners Society Limited (APRA AMCOS), which has 103,000 members in Australasia, its submission to the government’s options paper also calls for streaming services to contribute 10 per cent of their Australian revenues to a new Australian production fund.

The SVOD players would retain the right to invest in or commission Oz projects as they wish, and any funds remaining would be distributed to drama, children’s television and documentary productions.

The AGSC supports key proposals by Australian Screen Industry Guilds, including adopting option three as the preferred model on which to base future regulation, investment and strategies.

Another is to to harmonise the TV Producer Offset with the the Post, Digital and Visual Effects (PDV) Offset and Location Offset at 30 per cent, coupled with a “cultural uplift” incentive of an additional 10 per cent if key Australian crew, including composers, are utilised.

It asks Communications Minister Paul Fletcher to revoke the temporary suspension of local content quotas for commercial free-to-air broadcasters and advocates dedicated funding for public broadcasters to make drama, documentary, children’s programs and First Nations content.

Noting the marked decline in the volume of drama productions, it warns: “If this trend continues, our screen industry and the thousands of businesses and workers that support the screen economy will cease to exist unless a serious framework of investment and policy is implemented by the government.”

AGSC president Antony Partos tells IF: “If there is a silver lining to the pandemic, it’s that the industry has a great opportunity to do a reset. We hope there will be positive reforms that are long overdue.”

Typifying the impact of COVID-19 on his sector, Partos’ Sonar Music is usually fully booked a year in advance. His first job since the production shutdown began will be scoring the second series of Jack Irish for Easy Tiger in November.

“The recovery of the post sector will be months later than the rest of the industry,” he observes.

Emphasising the need for funding for the public broadcasters for First Nations content, Partos says the AGSC is keen to increase opportunities for First Nations screen composers via its education committee. The Guild is working with APRA’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Music Office headed by Leah Flanagan towards that goal.

Among other proposals:

– Introduce industry standards that rule out the unfair practice of composers being forced to reinvest up to 70 per cent of their fees. That means they are liable to pay for musicians, arrangers, engineers and studio costs out of the remaining 30 per cent whilst being taxed at 100 per cent of the original fee which they may never receive in full.

Fees are only repaid to composers when all equity holders including funding bodies, producers and investors recoup and after distributor’s costs, which the guild brands as an “entirely unsustainable and objectionable practice that exploits our members and others in the industry.”

– Lower the qualifying Australian spending threshold for the PDV Offset from $500,000 to $250,000 or scrap it completely. This would lead to more employment for local talent including screen composers.

– A weighted points system to further define post in the categories of visual effects, editing, sound and music. This would encourage international as well as local productions to use Australian-based talent in post rather than utilize large digital and visual post houses.

– A rebate or tax offset for Australian cinemas to screen Australian films, and consider making the purchase of tickets to local films tax deductible.