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MEPs propose directive to improve working conditions of EU artists

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Woman painting Copyright Canva
Copyright Canva
By Jonny Walfisz
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The European Parliament’s culture division has called for improvements to working conditions for artists. A new legislation could have the potential to radically change the fate of culture professionals in the EU.

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MEPs have voted to adopt a proposal from the Culture and Employment Committees of the European Parliament to improve the working lives of European artists and culture workers. 

The proposal included provisions to help European artists when selling their work to non-EU based video-on-demand (VOD) services.

“The level of precariousness in the sector has been dire for years, but the COVID-19 crisis has shown that the situation for CCS (culture and creative sectors) professionals is simply unsustainable,” said the co-rapporteur of the Culture and Education Committee Domenec Ruiz Devesa.

“It is our responsibility to give meaningful solutions to professionals that endure a lot, yet they give us everything, a sector that we must nurture, because without culture, our union lacks a soul,” Devesa continued.

With many cultural workers plagued by predatory freelance contracts, improper working conditions and the threat of replacement by AI, this new legislation has the potential to radically change the fate of culture professionals in the EU.

One particularly important goal to the legislation would be to tackle buy-out contracts that non-EU based VOD services have used to exploit European artists.

VOD platforms include streaming services like Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime. As streaming has risen in popularity, many of these platforms have exploited buy-out contracts to strip artists of their copyrights to the work, so that the VOD platforms don’t have to be worried about residual earnings.

Within the EU, this practice wouldn’t be possible as EU law provides the exclusive copyright to the creator of a piece.

“To circumvent fair compensation requirements in Europe, US-based VOD platforms rely on the US laws and the jurisdiction of US courts,” Véronique Desbrosses, General Manager of The European Authors’ Societies (GESAC) said.

Netflix's California headquarters
Netflix's California headquartersPaul Sakuma/AP

Last year, Helienne Lindvall, President of European Composer and Songwriter Alliance (ECSA) spoke to Euronews Culture about the problem. ECSA had run a survey and found that 66% of artists have been asked to sign away partial rights by VOD platforms.   

“Since refusing such buyout provisions is very difficult for composers due to the risk of being blacklisted. The options are either accepting the terms of a contract, however damaging, and thereby giving away the royalties they should be entitled to receive or losing the opportunity to work in a project handled by a very popular and dominant VOD platform and taking the risk of never working again for them,” Lindvall said.

Reacting to the EU’s move to ban these buy-out contracts, Desbrosses called it an “important step.”

“Retention of copyright and authors right within Europe is essential for the future of European creativity and economy and we look forward to the confirmation of this strong position of the European Parliament,” she added.

https://www.euronews.com/culture/2023/09/25/its-a-tentative-deal-hollywood-writers-strike-to-end-after-146-days-but-no-deal-yet-for-ac
https://www.euronews.com/culture/2023/09/25/its-a-tentative-deal-hollywood-writers-strike-to-end-after-146-days-but-no-deal-yet-for-acChris Pizzello/2023 Invision

The legislation initiative from the EU echoes many of the demands that the dual WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes have called for in the US over improper working conditions. 

Hollywood’s writers union, the WGA, voted in favour of a new contract providing a major pay raise, more staff on TV shows and controls regarding artificial intelligence in scripts. However, the actors union SAG-AFTRA remains on strike, having yet to reach a deal.

The EU Parliament will vote on the culture initiative in the November plenary session in Strasbourg.

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