We need new legislation to make the digital revolution the "creators' revolution"

This article is adapted from a speech made by Jean Michel Jarre, President of CISAC, at UNESCO ON June 12th 2017
2017 Jean-Michel Jarre

By Jean-Michel Jarre

Music and other creative sectors have seen an extraordinary transition in the digital world. It has revolutionised the way people access works, allowed the music of songwriters and artists to cross borders in ways they never could before and it has created enormous potential to grow our creative industries, jobs and the economy around them.

I have made my personal journey through these changes. At the start of my career, my music was carried only on vinyl records. Today it is streamed, live or recorded, in every country, and on countless platforms and mobile devices.

The digital age has been, and is, good for creators. When we speak about the digital economy, however, let’s be clear:  we are really talking about the cultural economy.  Because it is culture, cultural works, creations and creativity, that make up the heart of this digital age.  It is culture that is the blood being pumped through the arteries of our digital world.  It is creators who are putting the “smart” in smartphones.

Look at the biggest and most powerful platforms today – YouTube, Facebook, Google, Apple, Amazon - their businesses and their vast revenues are dominated and driven by the works made by creators.  Internet service providers compete via the packages of cultural content they can offer their subscribers.  Mobile operators have equipped the world with smartphones that, without music, film, photographs and books, are of almost zero value.

That is why creative industries have such future potential for economic growth and sustainable development. The EY study commissioned by CISAC just over a year ago estimates the value of creative industries at no less than 2,250 billion dollars worldwide. And creative industries provide 25 million jobs.

But, despite the good news, there is still an enormous problem. We have not yet made the digital revolution what it must become – a creators’ revolution. Access to cultural works certainly has been revolutionised.  And the consumption of cultural works has exploded. But where has the value been generated for that consumption?  Who has benefitted?

The answer is that the digital age has not sufficiently benefitted the creators whose works are driving it.   It has benefitted more the technology companies, the platforms and the makers of hardware that distribute and monetise those works.

The experience of the music sector provides the best illustration of the problem.  Music’s digital revolution has been through many phases – from MP3 piracy to music downloads, and now to subscription services. And for the first time in two decades, the music industry is growing again. 

This is good news. Yet creators are still not seeing a fair return for their work. And the main reason for that is the problem known as the “transfer of value”.

Today the biggest source of music by far is video streaming – platforms such as YouTube and other user generated content platforms. These platforms have an audience of more than 1 billion users worldwide. These are music services which are building vast businesses on the back of creative content – and which are paying minimal rates of remuneration to rights holders.

This situation is caused by a fundamental flaw in the creative landscape. It is caused by market rules which allow  powerful user generated services to avoid paying a fair rate for the creative content they are using. 

This is our global problem:  a huge sector that is distributing the music of creators is paying a tiny share of revenue in return. The transfer of value is the biggest issue facing creators today – not just in music, but also in photographs, film and other repertoires.

So what needs to be done?  Addressing the transfer of value is a major responsibility for policy makers. It will improve the environment in which creators are trying to make a living. It will help foster cultural diversity, helping authors and songwriters outside the mainstream, for whom streaming royalties are key to their livelihoods. 

In the last year, we have looked to the European Union for action. That is where there is legislation under discussion, that will soon be voted on by the European Parliament.  At a global level, UNESCO, too, has its own important role part to play – which is why this week, in Paris, I am speaking at the first ever UNESCO conference on fair remuneration for creators in the digital era.  

Europe has presented the opportunity for meaningful policy change on a global issue.  The European Commission’s copyright proposals would apply copyright law fairly to all music services, including video streaming platforms. It is a first step only – but it reflects renewed respect for creators’ rights in a world where too often they are under attack. 

The digital revolution has been the defining change in our lives in the last several decades. But as creators our work is not done – it is in many ways only just starting. The market distortion of the “transfer of value” must be fixed.  Creators must be fairly remunerated. The digital revolution must be a true “creators’ revolution”.

Jean-Michel Jarre is President of CISAC, the International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers.