The Spotlight Podcast: Young Performer Rights and Licensing

We get answers to the questions: what are the rights of a young performer and what is a licence for? 

If you're a younger performer or a parent of a young performer, here is what you need to know about your rights on the job, pay you're you entitled to and why a licence is needed to work.

In this episode, we talk to Lucy Jones, the Child Employment Officer at the London Borough of Bromley and Secretary of the National Network for Children in Employment and Entertainment as well as Claire Hood, from Equity, who has worked for two years in Recorded Media looking after ITV and PACT, as well as previously working for the BCC/ITV.

We talk about what licensing is for, what the common pitfalls are, the rights and protections performers should be aware of and more. 

27 minute listen or read the full transcript below.

All episodes of the Spotlight Podcast.

Episode Transcript

Christina Carè: Hello, and welcome to the Spotlight Podcast. I'm Christina Carè, the content manager at Spotlight, and today we're talking about licencing and young performer rights. To help us talk about this complex issue, we have Lucy Jones, who is the child employment officer at the London Borough of Bromley, and who is also the secretary of the National Network for Children in Employment and Entertainment. Also joining us is Claire Hood from Equity. She worked previously for Recorded Media, looking after ITV and PACT. She's also worked for BBC and ITV in everything from presentation to compliance.

This discussion with Lucy and Claire is a kind of follow-up to a panel that we recently held which was designed to inform agents and casting directors on this complex subject. We thought the information was really important though, so here's a mini version of that discussion for you right now.

Claire, Lucy, thank you so much for joining me today on The Spotlight Podcast. I want to start by asking you how did both of you get into what you do now? What's your background? Do you need a legal background to do what you do? What is it that's informed how you are today, what you're working in today?

Claire Hood: Well, my current role is a trade union role, and I would say it although it's not a prerequisite to have legal training, I do in fact have a law degree, and I'm actually studying to be a barrister, and I found that really helpful. Not even in so much as you've got a knowledge of the law and statute, but just negotiating and being an advocate for other people. My career has been in television rather than trade unionism, and I started off in transmission and worked my way through presentation and compliance and now work on the other side with the actors as their trade union representative.

Christina Carè: Amazing. And you, Lucy?

Lucy Jones: I really fell into my job. I saw it advertised in a paper and I went for it. I didn't really have any experience other than data input, which a lot of it is licencing. But I've been doing it 12 years now. And along the way, I have become a member of the London Network and also the National Network. And it's really good to see how people doing the job work together to try and get some consistency. We can't bend the rules obviously, but get some negotiation going, and really the bottom line is that it's always in the best interest of the child.

Christina Carè: So what is it then that a licence is really meant to achieve?

Lucy Jones: A licence is meant to achieve a few things. Firstly, we are supposed to inspect the venue and inspect the actual shoot. Now, with resources being what they are, we don't always get to do both, but when we go and inspect the shoot, we make sure that the facilities are suitable for the child and we made sure that the hours are being recorded so that they don't overwork the children. We talk to the children as well to make sure that they're having a good time and they know who go to if they're not.

And then if there's licenced chaperones involved, then we also do a background check on them amongst ourselves before we do the licence, which is sometimes what the delay is with the licence. Because sometimes even though a chaperone has a chaperone licence, you don't know whether it's been revoked for any reason. We've had to revoke a few or suspend a few while we're making inquiries, so really, we don't do a licence without checking that the chaperones are kosher.

Christina Carè: Yeah, absolutely. So it's about child safety.

Lucy Jones: Yeah, definitely.

Christina Carè: As well as one of the topics I wanted to cover today is the fact that sometimes licences aren't sought in particular instances, and that's usually around not paying young performers for their work. Do you think that's one of the big issues with the licencing process? What from your point of view is the concern there?

Claire Hood: I think the payment and licencing issues are quite separate. You do have to have a licence to work, but I wouldn't say there's necessarily a correlation between not obtaining a licence so you don't have to pay. I think there's two separate issues here depending on the media or the platform that the content's going to be shown upon. Let's say in television, the issue with the rates is quite separate to licencing. The issue with the rates in television come about as a result of the collective bargains we have in place. And those collective bargains don't make specific reference to children's rates because up until two years ago children couldn't join Equity. It's only recently they've been allowed to join from the age of 10, so this is why it's now very much on our radar because we need to get the rates into collective bargaining so that we can enforce rates.

Christina Carè: Which would mean more equality for younger performers actually being paid and knowing that they should be paid, and what that rate should be.

Claire Hood: Absolutely. Because at the moment there's completely disparate rates across different production companies and broadcasters. BBC have completely different rates to ITV. ITV are quite good, mainly because they produce the soaps, and as you'll know from watching soaps, the children do give quite good performances, sometimes they lead the story. So it tends to be in ITV they would get half the adult rate, but more importantly, they would also get what we call pre-purchases. So in the UK, we never have buyouts, an actor should always benefit from the performance when it's reused. So with the engagement fee, you only get one transmission on telly and you have to pay extra for further performance scenes. Now, some production companies are buying out the children's rates, which means although the content can be shown years down the line, 10, 15 years down the line, the child doesn't benefit. However, ITV and some production companies have come to an agreement with us whereby they well pre-purchase the rates at half the rate of adults.

Lucy Jones: That's good.

Christina Carè: That's the way it should be, really.

Claire Hood: Exactly.

Christina Carè: Absolutely.

Lucy Jones: When we were discussing the new regulations a few years ago, one of the big things that hit us was that the permitted hours for children are far, far longer than most of us would be willing to work in a week.

Christina Carè: Really?

Lucy Jones: Yep. And if they're not getting paid or they're only getting paid a pittance, it is ... What's word that I can never remember?

Christina Carè: Exploitative.

Lucy Jones: That's the one. It's exploitation, yeah.

Christina Carè: Yeah, absolutely. I want to ask you, Lucy, do you have much consciousness of wherein the production's process they come and seek you out for approval of a licence?

Lucy Jones: Well, it does vary, enormously actually. The people that know what they're doing, they will come to us early on. This came up at one of our roadshows when the regulations were changing. The woman that was chair with The National at that time, she said that employing a child in a production should be top of the list and not the bottom because there is safeguarding checks to do and a lot of things to think about with a child. Sometimes you need to get the services of a child psychologist in. There's a lot of stuff to think about that they wouldn't have to think about with an adult. And so they should get in touch with us as one of the first things they do.

Christina Carè: Yeah, first port of call.

Lucy Jones: And if they leave it until the last minute, then 9 times out of 10, there's a child that gets disappointed. And it's our fault, of course.

Christina Carè: Yeah.

Lucy Jones: We're the bad guys.

Christina Carè: Are there common reasons why you can't approve a licence that come up again and again for you?

Lucy Jones: Mostly it's time. Pressure of time. I mean I don't like turning anyone away, but we've had to establish a time parameter purely because we can only physically do what we can physically do, and that's why we've made a time parameter. And I mean we do bend it a bit, if someone says, "Oh, but I've had someone drop out, can you please licence this child?" then we do that. But we don't do it at the drop of a hat just because they haven't bothered to do their bit.

Christina Carè: Right. So there isn't a way to get ahead of the queue. You have to do it in a certain way.

Lucy Jones: There are some authorities that now have a fast-track fee. They don't like it. I mean one of the authorities was the lady actually still on the National Network, and we discussed it so many times, and she said how bad it was because it's a statutory duty so you shouldn't charge anyone for it, but in the end, of course, she has to do what her managers tell her and they were made to do this fast-track fee. But I think it was intended as a deterrent to make people, "We can't do it quick because they'll charge us," but in actual fact, I think it's done the opposite. People think just bang on £25 and they'll do it for you.

Christina Carè: So probably not the intention behind it.

Lucy Jones: No. And also, no matter what the intention is, really the bottom line is always the safety of the child. And if there's a chaperone check that we can't get done for four or five days, then that's how long it takes.

Christina Carè: Yeah. So what is the standard amount of time that you were alluding to earlier?

Lucy Jones: We have a minimum of seven working days.

Christina Carè: Okay.

Lucy Jones: We do occasionally go less than that. But mostly because of workload really, and the checks that have to be made, and you have to give the host authority adequate notice for them to plan an inspection as well.

Christina Carè: So there has to be a responsible party for the child. There have to be things in place to ensure that that child is working in a reasonable way and not in an exploitative way, etc.

What does the responsible party look like? Is that usually an agent, a parent, a chaperone? Is there usually one responsible party?

Lucy Jones: Do you mean on set?

Christina Carè: I mean in terms of the licence itself. Is it given with the view that one party is responsible for that child's wellbeing or is it just the production in general?

Lucy Jones: Well, the person who puts their name on the application is liable basically. And it is their duty.

Christina Carè: Their responsibility.

Lucy Jones: Yeah, their responsibility to make sure that chaperones are in place, to make sure chaperones have seen the licence and any health issues. So they're on paper responsible, but then of course there's other people. There are chaperones. There are people like us that go out and inspect the production, make sure that it's all going as it should.

Christina Carè: And in terms of a trade union point of view, what is it that having child membership of Equity is going to be able to do in terms of protecting that child on set? Are there things that parents should know in terms of accessing Equity's help?

Claire Hood: They get all the rates and benefits that an adult member would get, but obviously they do pay half price subscriptions. And for an adult to join Equity, they have to get £500 worth of work whereas a child has to get £250 worth of work. For a child to join, it's actually a lot easier, and that as soon as they type their birth date into the online section, it knows they're a child and can do it. But they get absolutely all the benefits that an adult gets as well. So they get access to us organisers. We can give them advice, we can check their contracts, and I think that's really useful if it's a parent that doesn't have an agent that represents their child, we're always happy to look at the contracts and make sure that the figures are correct. We do undertake set visits as well. We undertake all those visits and are always quite happy to chat to the parents on set because obviously, we wouldn't approach the children directly, but whatever benefits that the adults get, the children get that as well.

Christina Carè: So in terms of that actual making sure that ... I guess I'm trying to get us towards if there's the worst-case scenario and something does go wrong, what gets evoked first? Should they look back at the licence or should they just go seek other help? What should parents do if they are concerned that something is amiss?

Claire Hood: Well, obviously the first step we would say is to approach production.

Lucy Jones: They'd have a child protection person, wouldn't they, on the set?

Claire Hood: And the designated one in that would normally be in the child's contract. So looking at recent contracts that've been issued for children on quite big productions, there's always a child protection page, and that'll have the contact on it. So the production would normally be the first port of call. If they weren't getting anywhere, then escalate it to us. But we tend to have expected it to be raised at production before we get involved. But again, it depends very much on what's gone wrong.

Lucy Jones: And also, the chaperones, that's their duty as well. If things are not going right and they can't iron out the problems with the production company, then normally just they'd call us, and we'd go down there to sort them out.

Christina Carè: Go and investigate a bit further.

Lucy Jones: Yeah.

Christina Carè: I wanted to ask you, we mentioned in the panel, this was a particular key concern of our key account manager, Ellie Samuels, this concept of the open licence. What is it? Does it exist?

Lucy Jones: The only open licence that is legal is a licence issued for a child to, for example, appear on EastEnders for a six-month period where the dates aren't known. That's the only open licence there is. Authorities that issue a licence to an agent for a child for them to do any modelling in any location for anybody are illegal and we don't do them.

Christina Carè: Right. Very clear answer there. So it's not an option.

Claire Hood: So if the criteria is for a long-term production where the dates are not known, that really wouldn't be applicable to anything made by an independent production company under the pack contract, because you always have to tell the performer what dates they’re going to be engaged. So you engage them, so you would never contract anyone on unknown dates.

Lucy Jones: Well, one that comes to mind, I did one for one of our girls to be in The Dumping Ground, and what they do is they ask me for a licence between this date and that date. And then every now and again, they send me the upcoming schedule so that we know what date she's going to be missing school and all that.

Christina Carè: And how do the schools come into it? I remember as well, I was talking a little about, again at our panel for agents, just how the school does actually often not impede but have a say in and perhaps disappoint some people who wish to work at a young age.

Lucy Jones: They do. I'm doing Aladdin at the moment in ... Can't remember where it is, but two or three of the schools have said well, they can have this afternoon off, but not that morning, and it does make it difficult because the rehearsal schedule is in place and I can't fiddle with a rehearsal schedule, and I think really the school should say either yes or no.

The other thing is, and this is the biggest problem, a lot of schools misinterpret the regulations and they think that time off for performing comes under how much holiday they're allowed to give. But it doesn't, it's totally separate from that. And the performance licence does in fact authorise a performance. So really we don't even need to ask the teachers for permission. But historically we do because we have a duty not to issue if it's going to affect the child's education. So really you have to go by the individual child. Well, I don't know about everyone, but I personally try to liaise because I'd rather everyone come to an agreement than making that child a problem child.

Claire Hood: You'd be a great trade unionist.

Lucy Jones: Hmm?

Claire Hood: You'd be a great trade unionist.

Lucy Jones: Would I?

Claire Hood: That's a wonderful attitude, yeah.

Lucy Jones: Well, thank you.

Claire Hood: It's all about reconciliation, and negotiation, and that.

Christina Carè: There you go.

Lucy Jones: And quite often we do reach a compromise with it that everyone's happy.

Christina Carè: And it is obviously, I mean it can be, quite beneficial to the child, the experience of actually working on a set.

Lucy Jones: Definitely. If you ask a child psychologist, it is definitely. They get more confident and they get discipline. I don't know, it just helps them.

Christina Carè: Yeah. It's another point of view outside of school. Another way to learn, in a way.

Lucy Jones: And I was thinking the other day, if schools are saying no, because some schools will say any time out of school is obviously detrimental to their education, but if they're performing, I mean why do they have drama then as part of the curriculum? I don't quite understand it. I think it's a bit of a-

Christina Carè: Yeah, it's a bit of a hard-line answer really, isn't it?

Lucy Jones: Yeah. And I think a lot of headteachers just don't really understand it.

Christina Carè: I want to ask you then, what is it that you think actually has complicated licencing? What is it about all of this that... Is there a lack of information? Is it just that parties don't talk to each other clearly? What is it that's the problem here?

Lucy Jones: I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that I think historically it's been a bit them and us with a lot of local authorities. Obviously, there are people on both sides, I would say, that it's their way or no way sort of thing. But you can still obey the rules and regulations but if you educate someone that's done something wrong rather than just prosecute them. And we do inspections so that ... I mean we did an inspection once on Junior Bake Off, and we went to inspect it, and there was nobody there. And there was one person watching the base and she said, "Oh, they've taken the kids off to the Wicked theatre to do lunch for the cast”, which is beautiful idea, but totally not legal. And they were distraught that they'd done something wrong because every other aspect of that inspection was top-notch. They really provided for the children, but they were just distraught that they'd made a mistake. So, there's no point in getting on me high horse with people like that because they obviously have thought about what's good for the children.

Claire Hood: I think there's a lack of information though. And I think even at production level, I think producers that are coming up don't understand licencing. And I think what complicates it is a disparate nature and that each different council, I think, does it a bit differently. So certainly Equity, when we get questions through, we just say you have to go to your local counsellors who deals with it. And I think traditionally we've not really spoken to each other much. I think how that panel was good because I learned loads about it.

Lucy Jones: That was brilliant, yeah.

Claire Hood: And there's just no coeducational aspect to it, either between Equity, or the production side, or you guys, so I think the more information that's out there is better because I think there's a lot of misinformation.

Lucy Jones: Yeah.

Claire Hood: And I expect-

Lucy Jones: I mean-

Claire Hood: Yeah.

Lucy Jones: Sorry. A lot of people think that different councils have different rules, but obviously, we all are supposed to abide by the-

Claire Hood: No, I thought you did have different rules.

Lucy Jones: Really?

Claire Hood: I think they all interpret it differently.

Lucy Jones: They interpret different.

Claire Hood: Yeah, they all interpret it differently.

Lucy Jones: That's the thing.

Claire Hood:  So, I suppose at a statute, it's all statute based, but the way it's applied I think is slightly different.

Lucy Jones: Yeah, and I don't think you've ever going to change that really.

Claire Hood: So I think it's more about working together, isn't it? Maybe working with production a bit more to make sure they know what they're doing as well.

Lucy Jones: And explaining why. If you have to say no, explain why. Don't just say no.

Christina Carè: What the reason is.

Lucy Jones: Yeah.

Christina Carè: Gives people an opportunity to actually be educated and make changes.

Lucy Jones: Yeah, definitely.

Christina Carè: I want to ask you, we were talking a little earlier, Lucy, about the fact that you are referring generally to a statute that came from the '60s. What kind of challenges does that present for your job now?

Lucy Jones: It is still a little bit of a challenge because although we got the regulations changed, after years, and years, and years of work by agencies, and the National Network, and all kinds of people. They were changed in 2014 and that has made some parts easier. For instance, if they're doing a show and they want to film it, they can do that in ... Back in the day, they couldn't do that after half-past seven in the evening. It was really, really inconvenient, really. But I still think there's probably parts of the ... Is it the first level of legislation or something? Whatever they call it. The act itself. That probably is still out of date, but when they changed the regulations, so the regulations explain the law.

Claire Hood: Yeah, they come off the legislation.

Lucy Jones: So they can change the regulations, and even that took about 12 years, but to change the actual law would take forever and it's probably not going to happen in our lifetime.

Claire Hood: Because you'd have to go back to parliament and get them to get it repealed. What you need is a big case. So you need a big famous case that went to the Supreme Court, for example, and all the way up there, then the Supreme Court would send that case back to parliament and ask them to change the legislation. But that'd take something momentous.

Lucy Jones: It will.

Claire Hood: And it would take years as well.

Lucy Jones: There have been momentous things, haven't there, recently to do with children? And I don't know, I don't know what it'll take to change the law.

Christina Carè: Well, it's definitely very tricky, particularly with the advent of on-demand TV and also internet work.

Lucy Jones: Yeah, I mean the people that wrote the act in 1963 would never, ever have dreamed that all of this stuff was going to be invented. But having said that, they also did what they did because they knew that children had to be protected in the industry. And so the actual act is still relevant, although aspects of it, I suppose, are a bit out of date. And I don't know what they're going to do about that.

Christina Carè: What would you say in terms of, perhaps again for parents, what would either of you say in terms of that kind of internet work specifically? Are there rights on the internet? What are the child's rights?

Claire Hood: It depends on which platform it's going on. As we were talking about, 1963 never envisaged this type of media. Back in 2003, I don't think they envisaged that. And then we moved on quite quickly and it's escalating, so you have what we call subscription video on demand, which is a service you pay for, so something like Amazon or Netflix. So they are doing lots of commissioning in the UK. However, they are not covered by our current collective bargains because they were made for TV essentially. So we do have deals at the moment, we've been doing bespoke deals for each production, but we're trying to come up with an agreement for these types of platforms because it's too much work to do it.

So it does involve, again, looking at the engagement fee they get, but more importantly, the pre-purchase rates, and deciding where this content can be shown, because obviously with these types of platforms, they're more global than what previous old-fashioned telly would be. So again, it's a case of approaching this on each production you get engaged on, but for subscription video on demand, there are protections. What our collective bargain does cover is stuff like iPlayer or ITV Hub. So any video on demand service is covered by that. That's a separate licence and that money gets paid out based on how often the programme is viewed online. So that's trackable. So some of it is monetized and you do get rates for that. But for example, if you made something for YouTube, you wouldn’t be covered.

Christina Carè: Right, I was going to ask you about YouTube.

Claire Hood: So YouTube is a major one, especially with all the vloggers, but unless content's actually made by a production company and the viewers paying for it, then we don't have any jurisdiction. And it's a bit of a Wild West.

Christina Carè: Wow. That's quite scary because I know that on YouTube, there is a tendency now towards groups of people just assembling on YouTube, and making a production house of a fashion, and just calling themselves something, and getting whole offices of people together who would create content for YouTube in the same way that a production house might create it for any other online or other platforms that are similar. So that's quite scary that it is still quite unknown how we actually deal with that and how the person properly gets remunerated for that.

Claire Hood: Yeah, and it's quite unregulated. And I think the thing is it's so popular, because that's what all the kids are watching because they watch telly, it's all on YouTube.

Lucy Jones: Yeah. We have another case in our chaperone training where there was a family on YouTube, because our job doesn't cover... Anyone that puts himself onto one of those platforms, it's not in our remit, so they don't have the protection of us either. And there was a family, well there was a father who was really doing horrible things to his son, not physical abuse or anything, but one of the things he did was he put invisible ink or something on his feet and then made him walk all over their nice new carpet, and then really laid into him until he was crying.

Christina Carè: That's awful.

Lucy Jones: For entertainment. And I think that family was prosecuted eventually, but it is scary how many things could be going on.

Claire Hood: It's quite a broad-spectrum issue until something like Ofcom takes over regulation and do the whole internet. I think that's the issue, the internet is completely unregulated.

Lucy Jones: It's horrible. And what people consider entertainment as well, it doesn’t bear thinking about, some of it.

Christina Carè: Yeah. The internet is a scary place. I want to ask you then just more generally, stepping back from all the nitty-gritty of the legal stuff, we obviously at Spotlight are doing a lot more to talk to parents directly, and if you had any advice that you could give them, if the child really desperately wants to perform, just in terms of their being better informed as parents for that child, what advice could you give them?

Claire Hood: Listen to this podcast.

Christina Carè: Well, hopefully, they are.

Claire Hood: I don't want to be seen to do the hard sell, but I can't stress join Equity enough, because if you don't have an agent, we can be really helpful. And obviously the more members we have, the more traction we have, and the quicker we get things moving and get all the rates and rights into the collective bargains because we do provide a valuable service, especially our contract reading skills are second to none.

Lucy Jones: And also get in touch with your local authority and find out what their time parameters are so that you're not disappointed.

Claire Hood: I think try not to be too dazzled by the industry and understand it's really hard because I'm still quite excited by working in this industry.

Lucy Jones: It is kind of exciting. It is.

Claire Hood: -but that lends itself back to exploitation, because you're so keen for your kid to have this job, and you're so keen to work in it-

Lucy Jones: Yeah, people do get starstruck.

Claire Hood: ... you would take the job, and what you have to think, if you're working for a professional production company, they should be paying you professionally as well. So try not to get too blinkered by excitement.

Christina Carè: That's very good advice. I think that's it, ladies. Thank you so much.

Lucy Jones: Thank you.

Claire Hood: Thank you.

Christina Carè: Thank you for listening to today's of The Spotlight Podcast. If you've got any other questions, you can always ask us on Twitter @SpotlightUK, or drop us an email at [email protected].

If you're a parent wanting more information, like what you've heard today, you can also potentially benefit from our one-to-one sessions with Mel and Ellie, our young performer specialists. Just take a look at news and advice on our website to find out more.