Remuneration Models for Artists & Creative Industries

TWUC Chair Eric Enno Tamm testified to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage regarding remuneration models for artists and creative industries on November 22, 2018.

Good morning, and thank you for the invitation to present on behalf The Writers' Union of Canada. Our organization represents over 2,100 professional authors across the country, and we chair the International Authors Forum, with over 700,000 members globally.

Copyright is core to how we, as creators, earn a living. Erode copyright and you’ll erode income to writers. It’s that simple.

Earning a living as a writer is difficult at the best of times. It’s been immeasurably more difficult in the past decade as we’ve seen sweeping digital disruption across the creative industries. We hear that content is king in the Internet Age, but the creators of that content are being paid and treated like serfs.

In 2012, Canada’s authors and publishers were asked by Parliament to trust and respect a new understanding — a new model — around educational copying and fair dealing. What followed was anything but fair for writers. It’s been a disaster, and our members have felt it firsthand.

Our recent survey of Canadian authors received almost 1,500 responses and here’s what they told us:

  • Authors have suffered a 27% income decline in the last three years alone.
  • Compared to 20 years ago, we have seen our real incomes decline by 78%.
  • The average net income from writing is only $9,400.
  • Even worse, income from educational copyright royalties has declined, on average, by 42% in five years as a result of the illegal, free copying of the education sector.

In 2012, as Parliament was reforming the Copyright Act, writers knew that we faced a difficult road ahead. No surprise — we’ve been adapting. More of our member authors are self-publishing, and the Writers' Union has been delivering professional development workshops on self-publishing, book promotion, and publicity. Many authors are embracing entrepreneurship. Yet writers are now expected to do more for less — or worse, for nothing.

As our publishing partners can confirm, producing content isn’t free: researching, writing, re-writing, editing, graphic design, layout, distribution — these all cost money.

Yet authors are now expected to work for free for the benefit of the educational sector. In fact, with the recent proposed changes to the Copyright Board, our serfdom has been confirmed. The reality for Canada’s writers is that the Copyright Board is toothless. We work for it, but it doesn’t work for us.

We put in time and effort to get tariffs approved, and when they are approved, the education sector simply ignores them. We have asked for statutory damages for our tariffs to encourage compliance by educational institutions, but the government has declined to make that simple change. We are discouraged and disappointed by that decision.

Perhaps we should look to Europe on how to balance copyright, privacy, and online content in the Digital Age. The European Parliament recently approved a new directive laying out rules for how content is protected and paid for by giant tech platforms that have long avoided regulation. 

The directive requires platforms and aggregators online to pay licenses for the use of content snippets. As well, the Directive imposes greater responsibility on platforms for lawful sharing of online content — a measure that should help in the fight against content piracy, and provide a new licensing opportunity to authors for the use of their work online.

The Europeans are disrupting the disruptors, and telling Silicon Valley that a business model built on others’ free labour is unacceptable.

Another disruption — from the tech sector itself — could also prove valuable for creators. There’s increasing talk that new decentralized technology could allow creators to circumvent the centralized platforms and connect with readers directly. The technology, called a distributed ledger (or blockchain), has been around for decades but has become famous for powering cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin. Blockchain could now disrupt books.

How does the technology work? The platforms of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google are essentially gargantuan, centralized relational databases. They are intermediaries, controlling our relationship to readers and facilitating sales transactions.

Distributed ledger technology, in contrast, has no centralized authority controlling a database. Instead, transactions are stored on an immutable ledger which is replicated on many computers across a peer-to-peer network. Since the ledger exists in many places, it’s harder to hack.

Transactions can be bundled into digital blocks on a chain giving the technology its popular name: blockchain. For a book, these transaction blocks could be for the authorship, publishing, distribution, and, ultimately, the reader’s purchase.

The technology could have several applications for authors:

  • it could guarantee attribution for a digital work to an author or rights holder;
  • through “smart contracts,” it could distribute and authenticate copyrighted materials to readers; and
  • via a digital wallet, it could automatically distribute a royalty directly and immediately back to an author.

A number of tech startups are already using the technology to distribute content and reward creators, including blockchain publisher and A month ago, Access Copyright launched its own startup, Prescient Innovations Inc., to build and test blockchain applications that are creator focused. The Writers’ Union supports Access Copyright on this pioneering work.

The Writers’ Union of Canada is committed to innovation and empowering our members to adopt new technologies, skills, and business models to survive. Given the sorry state of our earnings, we have little to lose and much to gain.

There is possibly promising technology on the horizon to help us develop new, innovative remuneration models. However, stronger copyright is also key. Fair dealing needs to be fair, not free, for educators, and we need a Copyright Board that’s more than a paper tiger. Significant statutory damages will give the Copyright Board some teeth in dealing with those who don’t pay their tariffs.

If we value culture, then we must value the work of those who produce it.