Copyright Industries and Creators in the Age of COVID-19: The Impact and the Response

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As I sit here looking out my window at fresh daffodils and cherry blossoms, it is hard to imagine that a potentially deadly virus is stalking the land. Of course I am lucky to be where I am, on Vancouver Island where spring has arrived; in other parts of Canada and the world spring flowers are still a few weeks away, but they will come, COVID-19 or not. And that is important to remember; nature’s cycle goes on and we want to ensure that we take all necessary measures now so that we enjoy many more springs to come.

Where I live, and no doubt where you live, unprecedented measures are being taken to ensure that people “social distance” or “self-isolate”, depending on their circumstances. If people are healthy they are encouraged to stay home as much as possible and when they go out, for essential purposes or even for a bit of fresh air, to maintain a two metre (six foot) distance from others, and practice careful hygiene. If they aren’t feeling well, or have come back from a trip abroad, they are to self-isolate, staying at home and not even going out for essentials. This of course has impacted the lifestyle and circumstances of millions of people in North America and around the globe, including those in the copyright world. What are those impacts and how are creators and the copyright industries responding?

The suspension of virtually all non-essential economic activity has hit the creative industry and artists really hard. No more concerts, theatrical performances cancelled, art galleries and movie theatres closed, even small book readings and book clubs suspended. The London Book Fair and the Bologna Children’s Book Fair have been cancelled. The impact on many musicians, those who depend on live concerts for income or to promote their work, has been immediate. Film and TV production has been suspended, with a negative knock-on effect on jobs all through the production stream. In Vancouver, Canada’s so-called “Hollywood North”, Warner Bros. began suspending production more than a week ago. By the middle of last week, all 42 film projects active in the city were shut down, almost overnight, leaving workers in the industry scrambling. The Guardian estimates that 170,000 workers in the industry have lost their jobs in the US and UK. And it’s not just film production that has been hit. No more weddings; no more wedding photos. And so on. Governments are coming up with financial assistance packages to help those temporarily laid off, but each individual’s circumstance is different and each government’s response package is structured differently. Workers in the creative industries in many instances live job to job so employment insurance benefits are not always available.

There have been other impacts as well, perhaps not so negative. For obvious reasons, consumption of content via remote platforms has soared. Netflix and other streaming services have seen a huge surge in demand, so much so that Netflix has had to reduce its bandwidth in Europe to ease congestion on networks. At the same time however, popular pirate sites like Popcorn Time in the UK have enjoyed a resurgence in popularity. Hopefully Britain’s effective site-blocking mechanisms will deal with that. People have turned not just to video and music streaming services for relief but also back to books. Although libraries in many areas are closed and probably also book shops, the availability online of e-books from libraries and online book outlets is a blessing for parents with kids at home, or to others who have to find ways to amuse themselves, or who want to improve their minds. Presumably all those authors, composers and artists now self-isolating or just staying home will have more time on their hands to create, and we may see an explosion of new content once this is all over, although for some lack of freedom to move around may crimp inspiration.

That’s the impact. What about the response? The most immediate industry response was from Netflix, which announced the establishment of a $100 million fund to support workers in the film and video industry suddenly without work. Much of that funding will go to those working on now-suspended Netflix projects, in addition to two weeks suspension pay being paid by the company. Some of the funding will go to non-profits providing emergency relief to industry workers in countries where Netflix is in production, as well as to union-based organizations in the US and Canada. In terms of government response, the Canadian government announced that it would continue funding to the cultural sector even if events and shows are cancelled. While welcome, many major theatrical and musical events have already been cancelled and while government subsidies provide some help, for major festivals that funding represents only 10-20 percent of revenues.

While these measures might provide some relief to industry workers, what about the rest of us confined at home, with or without kids? The Copyright Alliance, an industry group based in Washington, DC that represents the interests of copyright stakeholders in the US across the broad spectrum of areas of creativity protected by copyright, has launched a compilation of resources from the copyright community to help ease the isolation brought about by coronavirus control measures. Among these are tools such as safe and simple learning activities and lesson plans for ages 3-12 from Microsoft’s Family Learning Center;  free online classes and access to its magazines from Scholastic; temporary free online access to its classes from the Professional Photographers of America, and so on. Check it all out here.

All of us have a part to play in contributing to the control and eventual defeat of this threatening virus. We all want to see “normal” life resume as quickly as possible and to be able to enjoy once again the output of our artists, musicians, authors and other creators in a social, group setting. And they want to be able to earn a living from what they love doing, and do best. So to make that happen, we have to follow the advice of the health professionals and do what is necessary now to reduce the spread of COVID-19. If that means finding new ways to enjoy content while staying at home, that is not necessarily a bad thing. If it means having more time to explore some of the many content offerings available online, that is also making a virtue of a necessity.

Creators are generally a resilient lot, used to adapting to changing circumstances and hopefully they will find ways to last out this artistic shutdown. When this is over, and it will be, let’s all make a special effort to get out and enjoy our favourite cultural “fix”, whether it’s a live concert, a blockbuster film at the local cinema, a new book, a gallery opening for photos or art, or any of the other creations of human endeavour that make life worth living. Stay safe.

© Hugh Stephens, 2020. All Rights Reserved.

 

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