The Voice – You’re original – Now you belong to us

The voice of TV producers, networks, record labels and marketing campaigns. The one voice you won’t hear is that of the artists.

ITV Studios’ The Voice Australia is Australia’s most popular singing competition. Originating in the Netherlands in 2010, this is now one of the world’s most successful reality TV show formats, with more than 500 million viewers in over 70 countries. The long-running competition puts hopefuls in front of a panel of judges who, if they like you, will vie for you to join their respective teams and compete to pocket $100,000 and a recording contract with Universal.

Having just completed its 8th season, the show is not without controversy.

A previous episode saw coaches Boy George and Kelly Rowland clash over an original song performed by a contestant. George took issue with Kelly’s decision to let 20-year-old Denzel perform in the Knockout round with an original song, ‘Revolution’, when other contestants had to sing covers.

This gives light to the question of how much control the production company has over what contestants write and perform during the show – and who reaps the benefits?

With so many people desperate to ‘make it’, executives can manipulate contestant contracts to heavily favour the production company and network.

Before applicants even secure a televised audition on the show, they must sign a Recording Agreement. The Voice UK’s terms and conditions state that applicants who have prior contractual arrangements in place are subject to disqualification “if the Producer determines…that any such contractual arrangement might prevent the Applicant from entering into the Recording Agreement.” Ensuring the show’s contestants are not locked into prior contracts is one way for the producers to guarantee contractual opportunities with successful contestants.

If applicants are successful in auditions and continue on to be a contestant, they are required to sign a Programme Contract – subject to rules changeable at the will of the Producer. This additional contract is very likely to have copyright provisions therein which may not only allow the company to use your performance, images and recordings of you, but which may extend to any new songs you write and/or perform on the show.

These contracts also extend beyond the end of the show. According to The Voice Australia 2017 winner, Mo Adeniran, the winner is tied into a contract where they cannot release anything for at least six months after the show’s conclusion. This hinders their success by making it incredibly hard to retain an audience, which is why many of the winners remain unknown to the general Australian public.

These contracts can be a straight-jacket on anyone who decides to participate in the show both as they compete and after they leave the program, especially if they win. Whether this is a deterrent to those considering applying remains to be seen, with The Voice Australia remaining as the singing competition of choice for Australians.

Whilst we have focused on The Voice, such terms can be commonplace for many artist/songwriter and production company contracts and it is always worth reviewing such terms before blindly entering into them. Better to know what you have signed up for and then make a commercial call as to whether you wish to proceed.

Whether a production company would entertain changes to such contracts is commercially questionable for they hold so much market power that they could take the view of “take it or leave it, there are plenty of other talented people out there.” This market power, heavily biased terms and ability to change terms at will can also be a double-edged sword to be used against such production companies because such contracts can be challenged under the unfair contract term provision under the Australian Consumer Law.

In essence, take the time to understand what you are signing up for and if you want to make changes or have unwillingly sold your soul, your copyright to your song, your image, performance and/or restrained from starting anew and want out then seek advice for there may be a “stage left” option to get you out of such arrangements and in some circumstances, the ability to get back what you created and the royalties associated with same.


For further information please contact the author or a member of our Intellectual Property team. 


This article is general commentary on a topical issue and does not constitute legal advice. If you are concerned about any topics covered in this article, we recommend that you seek legal advice.