Authors deserve fairness, not charity

Living under lockdown, with social distancing, was once unimaginable but is now the new normal for most of us. Cinema, theatres and film production were among the first cultural activities to shut down, and they will be the last in line to be up and running again. However, the cultural sector continues to show resilience to mobilise, adapt and outlive the COVID-19 crisis.

The members of the SAA (collective management organisations) are working to ensure that authors’ royalties for the exploitation of their works are distributed on time or even in advance, social funds are mobilised and campaigns have been developed to advocate for authors not to be left behind by governments’ emergency plans. By now, most EU Member States have set funds and support for employment, social security, business continuity and tax alleviations. The European Audiovisual Observatory provides an overview of the national measures in place for the audiovisual sector. However, not all measures are adapted to the specific situation of freelancers in the TV and film sector (as shown by a recent UK study). The European Parliament acknowledged that many self-employed cultural workers, "(…) were struggling well before the outbreak" and have been particularly hit. Indeed, “[their] income streams have been unexpectedly reduced to zero and [they] now have little or no support from the social system” (resolution).

Creators, their representative organisations and policymakers are coming together in different online forums to discuss the COVID-19 impact on the cultural and creative sectors and its policy responses. The conversations are slowly moving from talks about the threats the virus poses, to ways to seize the “opportunities”. Professor Pier Luigi Sacco, spoke at an OECD webinar about the fast accelerating digitalisation the crisis has brought, resulting in new forms of markets and business models and the possibility to redesign the global content ecosystem. And, who are better placed to imagine new innovative solutions than creators themselves, said Philippe Kern, Director of KEA. The cultural and creative sectors play a key role in contributing to the COVID-19 exit-strategy. The sectors have the ability to mobilise the population, create an intercultural dialogue and build trust, concluded Kern. 

In COVID-19 confinement, more than ever, people turn to online culture, consuming films, music and other arts. Musicians stream concerts from their home, museums open their exhibitions online and video-on-demand platforms extend their catalogues and release movies that have not premiered in cinemas. While many realised the indispensable value of culture in times of crisis, its online availability for free is taken for granted and the devastating socio-economic impact on creators is overlooked. Jean-Michel Jarre, President of CISAC, made the point at a UNESCO webinar that paying creators and artists for the exploitation of their works should not be based on charity, but on the contrary, it should build on the principle of fairness as set out in the EU Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market. Filmmakers’ right to remuneration for the exploitation of their works by video-on-demand platforms is unfortunately not an established principle in too many countries. The increased consumption of films online during the lockdown does not compensate authors for the lost work as it does not generate any revenue to many authors. Netflix’s aid packages to the film sector in some European countries come across as generous, yet is it proportionate to the companies record-high market value and monthly earning of almost €1 billion? (Cineuropa).

The crisis has unveiled the weak protection of authors online, but it has also shown that the cultural and creative sectors are better equipped during the COVID-19 crisis in countries with a robust copyright law and support system. With a solid infrastructure in place, creators can play a vital role “in the healing and recovery process that our societies are going to face in the months and years ahead”. This is a message from 100 organisations to decision-makers that the SAA signed.

Stay safe!