Equity has today (Jan 29th 2024) intensified its opposition against Spotlight over its subscription fees, sending them a “Letter Before Action” with a deadline to provide “clear evidence as to how they have come to the current subscription rates” alongside several requests including to “immediately alter access to their website” to show all members to other members without restriction. If their requests are not met, Equity have threatened to take a class action case against them in the High Court.
This issue started gaining traction last October when Spotlight introduced a ‘Premiere’ membership tier, offering extra services at a higher fee. The plan, which was eventually scrapped due to widespread criticism from Equity, its members, and industry professionals, brought to light a deeper issue: Equity’s concern over Spotlight’s monopoly in the industry and its alleged exploitation through high subscription rates.
Equity’s disapproval stems from the acquisition of Spotlight by the US-based Global Talent Systems and the consequent increase in subscription fees, which many have come to call a ‘Tax on Hope’. In it’s announcement today Equity have outlined what their lawyers believe to be a series of practices that are “illegal in most sectors”, but which Spotlight are free to exploit because of a “regressive exemption” for the performing arts and entertainment industries. Historically, Equity has ignored or even supported this exemption. However, the current Council, elected in 2022, has revisited this stance, and are now lobbying the Labour Party to revoke it as part of their “New Deal for Working People” manifesto.
Despite the current exemption, Equity believes that Spotlight are in breach of several key requirements. Spotlight’s income from performers, Equity estimates, is in excess of £1.25M per month and their position is that the exemption for the performing arts and entertainments industries should not allow Spotlight to make a profit from it’s activities, or to use this money to fund other activities that are unrelated to the publication and maintenance of the directory (for example; operating casting rooms, running workshops and events, providing career support services etc.)
According to Equity, the law states that the price of services like entry into the Spotlight directory should be “no more than a reasonable estimate of the cost of production and circulation of the publication attributable to the inclusion of information about that work-seeker in the publication“. Equity has described it as “implausible” that Spotlight’s charges represent a reasonable cost, and “incomparable” with the costs of similar platforms across the UK, Europe and in the US.
In a bold move, Equity’s lawyers have issued a ‘Letter Before Action’ to Spotlight, with a deadline demanding clear evidence for their subscription rates and immediate compliance with regulations, including providing universal access to all member profiles on their website.
We’re not quite what this would mean exactly; are they suggesting that all casting directors and agents profiles should be visible to all performers and vice versa? Or are they simply requesting that all performers be able to search and discover each other, a very useful feature which was quietly removed several years ago by Spotlight.
Failure to comply with this “Letter Before Action” could lead Equity to initiate a class action lawsuit in the High Court to enforce a reduction in fees to a reasonable level. This showdown between Equity and Spotlight represents a critical moment for the performing arts industry, potentially reshaping the financial dynamics between artists and casting platforms.