Commentary: Content creators deserve fair pay on streaming sites

As culture moves online, artists should be protected in the transition

Photo Illustration by Tegwyn Hughes

Lawmakers need to consider the impact of large streaming sites on the artistic community.

As the Copyright Law of the European Union goes up for review, many are calling on the legislation to demand compensation for artists.

Like in Europe, arts consumption has never been greater in Canada. People are consuming content across platforms, but artists aren’t making money off their creations. Rather, it’s the owners of platforms like Twitter, YouTube and Facebook reaping the profits.

“There has never been a greater interest in content. There are more readers than ever. But nobody’s really making any money off it except the aggregators and the platforms who are keeping all the profit,” John Degan told The Toronto Star, while acting as the Executive Director of The Writers Union of Canada and the International Authors Forum.

With streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music, Facebook and YouTube more popular than ever, content has never been cheaper. This is unfair for artists and impractical for maintaining a strong cultural community in Canada.

As a large, free-market economy, Canada operates on the principle that people are compensated in exchange for their property or their labour.

Creative work is recognized as intellectual property under the law. In principle, it should be protected.

When corporations like Facebook and Twitter profit off the creative work of other people without compensation or consent, they’re stealing from the artists who created it.

These websites make enormous profits from ad revenue. Not sharing this with content creators is wrong.

Musicians receive very little in royalties when they release music on Spotify or Apple Music. Videos released on Facebook are shared without limitation and no compensation to the people who make them.

Margaret McGuffin, Executive Director of the Canadian Music Publishers Association, told The Toronto Star that the point of the Copyright act is about “songwriters and creators being able to have a basic existence in the digital age.”

This failure to defend artists’ work impoverishes our creative communities. They aren’t able to earn enough money to support themselves and their craft. As a result, they’re forced to take on another means of securing income.

With part-or full-time jobs, artists can’t put the same time and energy into making content.

This, as well as the lack of regulations, prohibits artists from making a living off their work. It creates a discouraging environment for amateur artists, one where living off their craft seems increasingly unrealistic.

As covered in The Toronto Star, the only way to fix this problem is to update our copyright legislation to ensure that streaming sites share ad revenue with content providers. 

But not everyone is onboard with this line of reasoning.

Internet blogger, Cory Doctorow, refers to the European Copyright directive vote as being the start of “mass, automated surveillance and arbitrary censorship of the Internet.”

This mentality disregards the rights of the artists. If regulating the distribution of music, films, and other online art forms is considered “arbitrary censorship,” then the artists whose work is stolen and shared online aren’t being defended justly.

In this situation, the only people receiving consideration are the tech companies who benefit from not having to pay artists to use their work. 

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