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  • Writer's pictureChris Butera

A Quick Guide to Understanding In Perpetuity for Voice Acting

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Photo by Y K / Unsplash.

In the wacky world of voice acting, the two most dangerous words are “in perpetuity.”

These words appear in voiceover gigs and voice acting auditions all the time. It’s something that seasoned voice actors will steer clear of and beginners don’t understand. This issue is becoming more rampant in the voiceover industry, with newer voice actors falling prey to these career-crushing words.

Here’s why you need to say no to in perpetuity.

What is "In Perpetuity?”

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Photo by Amy Hirschi / Unsplash

In perpetuity means forever. In voiceover, this pertains to usage terms. 

Rather than license your voice for a paid campaign and receive compensation for the client's ability to use your voice again, in perpetuity means they can use it however they want without paying you again for the usage. Forever. 

That being said, some in perpetuity work is OK. This only applies to non-broadcast work such as corporate training/narration, medical narration, audiobooks, and eLearning. You usually won’t see the words “in perpetuity” on any of these jobs but understand that these are exceptions as they will not be broadcast or receive any paid promotion. 

Corporate videos can appear on a company’s website and/or be seen internally by employees. Although anyone can view the former, it is not paid placement, meaning it’s not a commercial/radio spot or receives paid promotion on social media. 

Medical and eLearning voiceover work is not public-facing content as it’s used to train staff. 

Audiobooks will be available to the world for anyone that wants to listen, in an on-demand setting. Audiobooks rarely have non-competing clauses that can create issues (you can set up residual structures if you like). 

To reiterate: Anything that will not receive paid placement is fair game for in perpetuity agreements. Anything receiving paid placement, however, is never OK and should never be agreed to. 

What Happens When You Agree to In Perpetuity?

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In perpetuity may not sound like a big deal until you know what you’re stepping into. Yes, you get paid to perform voiceover, maybe even for a big brand. Your voice might be heard all over the world, but you’re signing away your rights and ability to perform for other similar brands for the rest of your life. In other words, agreeing to in perpetuity usage for broadcast gigs is a great way to kneecap and potentially kill your voiceover career.

The thing that voice actors don’t understand about this is that once you do an in perpetuity job you will lose big twice.

The first way you lose big by agreeing to in perpetuity is by only getting paid once to deliver the voiceover job requested. That means no residuals or any additional payments when the campaign runs again via tags, lifts, or in its original form forever.

Speaking of forever, because the campaign can and may run forever, you will also lock yourself out of future work in that sector forever, losing big again.  

For example, you do voiceover for a national McDonald’s campaign that runs for a year. You make $50,000 for your work. They decide to run it every year for the next five years — without letting you know or paying you again (they don’t have to). Your deal is in perpetuity, which means they can use it whenever they want and however they want forever. That’s what you’re agreeing to.

Normally you would get paid again every year they choose to run it after the first, but because it’s in perpetuity, you never get paid again. You also can’t EVER do voiceover work for Burger King, Wendy’s, Carl’s Jr., or anything else in the food and beverage industry because you have a spot for their competitor running. This is called “soft exclusivity.”  

These exclusivity clauses are usually temporary and make sense. Burger King doesn’t want the same voice as McDonald’s if McDonald’s campaign is currently running. When that campaign’s over, it’s a different story. In perpetuity makes it so that you never know if and when a campaign is running, which is why you can’t do work for any other food and beverage brand again. 

If you get your hand caught in the in perpetuity cookie jar, meaning that you have two broadcast spots in the same industry running at the same time, you could get sued, losing big a third time.

How to Navigate and Negotiate In Perpetuity in Voiceover

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Photo by Diego PH / Unsplash

If you see an in perpetuity audition or if a client asks you to do an in perpetuity job that will receive paid placement (TV/radio broadcast, paid social, etc.), explain to the client why you’d love to do the job, but can’t under an in perpetuity agreement. They may not know that in perpetuity is harmful to your business. It’s not their job to know, either. Voiceover is your business, so it’s up to you to educate them. 

When you educate the client, find out the campaign's intended usage length and suggest alternative pay structures that provide fair compensation based on that while cutting out the in perpetuity clause. If the client agrees, do the work and get paid. If the client insists that you shouldn’t worry about it, kindly tell them “No thank you.” 

It can be tough to walk away at the beginning of your voiceover career or during a slow period, but it’s for the best. Short-term gains can equal big-time losses. Think about the big picture and move on.

Here’s an example of what could happen: You agree to an in perpetuity commercial for a client who makes speakers. The person you’re working with has no intention of using anything for more than three months with only social media promotion, which they honor. Years later, they get another job and move on. The person that replaces them sees that you’ve agreed to let them use your voiceover in perpetuity and decides to reuse the spot. 

Meanwhile, you don’t know any of this is happening and land JBL as a client. Your JBL contact hears the old spot somehow and asks you how long the spot is running for. When they find out that spot is in perpetuity, they inform you that they can no longer use you. All deals with JBL and any other speaker brands are now dead in the water. Forever.

In the immortal words of the RZA, “Ya best protect ya neck!”

The Bottom Line of In Perpetuity

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Photo courtesy of Wix.

When dealing with in perpetuity jobs for broadcast work, understand that doing these gigs will leave lots of future revenue on the table and do harm to your voiceover career. It’s a practice that many clients and voice actors may not have enough insight into what the terms are stating, and others may not care. 

When it comes to this work, educate the client on what in perpetuity means for you as a voice actor and why you can’t work under this agreement. Outline new terms and fair compensation. If that doesn’t work for the client, walk away. There will always be clients willing to work with you under the right circumstances. Your future self will thank you. 

Author's note: Special thanks to Paul Schmidt for taking the time to review this article for accuracy.

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