Over the past few days, what should have been a positive PR stunt for Watch Dogs: Legion has evolved into a rather messy debate surrounding the exploitation of artists. The controversy began when Joseph Gordon-Levitt announced his company HitRecord would once again partner with Ubisoft on a community collaboration project allowing fans to submit music contributions to Watch Dogs: Legion, with winning compositions being awarded $2000 (£1600) for each song selected for inclusion.
Since then, however, the initiative has received a significant amount of backlash on social media, with the main concern being artists are essentially being asked to contribute “spec” work (submitting examples or complete work without an agreed-upon fee). This means artists run the risk of composing work for the game and receiving no payment for their efforts should their song not be chosen. Ubisoft’s previous collaboration with HitRecord for Beyond Good and Evil 2, for instance, had drawn over 11,000 contributions as of November 2018 – but it’s unclear exactly how many of these submissions will be used, and whether their artists have yet received any money for their work (via Variety).
Concerns have also been raised about the amount of money awarded to each artist, as the $2000 is split between all contributors for that particular song – meaning individual composers could end up with significantly less than that total figure. It also creates a messy situation regarding rights to the work: as noted by Jeff Ramos for Polygon last year, while artists retain the rights to their own contribution, the collaborative nature of HitRecord means individual composers do not own the rights to the entire piece – and the finished song becomes a unique product HitRecord owns the rights to sell.