Time to secure a status for authors and artists

Of the total employment in EU27, 3,7% (7,3 million) people work in the cultural sectors and one third are self-employed (Eurostat 2019). COVID-19 has worsened their already precarious situation and left many without any regular income and difficulties to prove their eligibility for any possible financial support mainly designed for employees or businesses.

Part of the solution is a swift implementation of the Copyright Directive and a European framework for working conditions of artists and creative workers, concludes a new study by the European Commission (2020).

Without traditional forms of employment, people working in the cultural sectors lack paid sick leave, social security, health insurance, maternity leave and other benefits. Minimum wages tend to not apply to these workers. Interestingly, the concept of a “universal basic income'' could be a way forward suggests the study, to encourage more people to develop a career in the cultural and creative sectors. This would provide the support to be able to take risks with failure and secure at least in part a predictable economic stability. 

Many authors and artists are forced to take on a secondary job. Women suffer the additional burden of the “glass ceiling”, gendered expectation in the sector and home care responsibilities. Young people and graduates struggle to find a foothold and may end up with unpaid work or jobless. Only established authors and artists can afford to live entirely from their creative work. However, the SAA’s interviews with successful filmmakers, watch the testimonies by Urša Menart (Slovenia), Julie Bertuccelli (France) and Roger Michell (UK) - has proven the pandemic has affected them too. See also the study on the earnings and working life of audiovisual authors (2019) confirming they are struggling to make ends meet and to maintain sustainable careers.

Two conclusions from the study I take with me:

Firstly, authors and creative professionals share one thing in common: revenues that are generated from their works are not entirely transferred to them, in particular in the digital environment. Platforms must do more to return value to the authors and artists. Today, “the business model for platforms is to exploit the creative ecosystem’s resources while pushing all the risk back to the ecosystem, which leads to failing revenue for creators”. What is needed is strong copyright provisions to ensure that authors and artists are fairly remunerated. The Copyright Directive adopted in 2019 must now be implemented by Member States by 7 June 2021. If not, authors and artists will continue to lose out from the revenues of their works as their weak negotiating power leaves them defenseless against the powerful platforms.

Secondly, Member States do not always have sufficient legislative basis on the status of artists and their working conditions. The study therefore suggests a “European Framework for working conditions of artists and creative workers”, providing a set of principles and recommendations to trigger activity on national level to improve, among other areas contracts, taxes, wages, social benefits, etc. The study recommends that the European Commission should collect and disseminate good practice and inform Member States of policies and measures that are available to those working in the Culture and Creative Sectors.

Furthermore, the Portuguese EU Presidency intend on putting the “European Pillar of Social Rights” into concrete actions to promote a Social Europe. An initiative that should include the role of culture and also benefit authors and artists.