15 August 2008

CBC Hockey Anthem Contest Disappoints

While this post may be most interesting to fellow Canadians, it contains some of my sentiments about what I find an unattractive contest and/or deal.

I will not be participating in the CBC contest to find the next theme song for it's hugely popular "Hockey Night In Canada" television program. (In North America we just call it "Hockey", while in many other countries it's called "Ice Hockey".) The CBC is the major publicly funded radio and TV broadcaster in Canada. This program is probably the most venerable and popular program in Canada and the rights to it's previous theme song were lost to a competitor over the summer. That previous song is so well known in Canada, that one might almost think of it as Canada's second (unofficial) national anthem.

So CBC is holding a contest to find a new "Hockey Anthem". This is a great idea in principle and like many Canadian music makers, I was flirting with the idea of participating. But then I read the contest rules as I tend to do before I consider participating in any musical contest.

The deal for the winning entry seems reasonably straightforward: There seems to be 100k Canadian Dollars for the winner plus whatever standard royalties for forthcoming radio and TV play of the song with the important caveat that CBC essentially becomes the publisher who gets ALL rights to the song, although they make a lot of fanfare about giving their "publisher's" royalties to amateur hockey causes. And the royalty split is 50/50 between CBC (as the publisher) and the writer(s) of the song. So, it gets close to being a "work for hire", but there's nothing wrong with that and for spending x hours of creating such a song the economic reward would be arguably worthwhile for many creators.

For professional creators, there's always a problem for working hard for just a chance to get the gig, but that is the case pretty much for any business. You have to create, advertise and try to sell without any guarantees that your product will be accepted by the market place.

The nasty part is, that the CBC demands a high degree of exclusivity for "semi-finalist" contest entries without any guaranteed compensation. So if you're a semi-finalist you end up losing considerable rights to your own song for 3 years without any guaranteed compensation. There are some vague references to potential prizes for semi-finalists, but nothing seems very firm. They reserve the right to make commercial CDs and downloads from semi-finalist entries within the first 3 years and reserve the right to determine unilaterally how much to pay the semi-finalists for that. That could end up being close to nothing.

I have no problem with allowing others to use my work, sometimes I give even commercial rights for free. For example, the other day a remixer emailed me and my musical collaborator and I decided to license a small run commercial release for free. But in that deal I don't lose any of my own rights to the song I co-created.

However the CBC prevents even semi-finalists from publishing their own songs for 3 years. Without any compensation! So while some parts of the CBC are very enlightened, this particular effort of interacting with artists seems rather artist hostile to me.

I'm very curious, if any well known Canadian composers will bother to participate under those terms, or if in the end some of them will get a special, more reasonable deal, which the public never finds out about.

There's a chance that the contest may end up working out economically or otherwise lucrative, for semi-finalists, if the CBC unilaterally decides to make it so.

But I don't like entering a deal where I'm hostage to a large corporation being magnanimous. If I write a song, I most certainly don't want to give away my own rights to that song for free.

And that's why I won't be participating in that contest.

Disclaimer: I'm not a lawyer and I don't even play one on TV. So this post is not intended to be legal advice.

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