Opinion | Technology

Internet creativity is good for American jobs and the economy

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill

Revenues in the entertainment industry continue to break records and 2018 was no exception.  Labels and studios would like artists and policymakers to believe the myth that the internet is hurting their industry. 

Meanwhile, they fight with artists over how the money is split, including a recent class action filed by artists over access to termination rights. However, if you dig deeper you will see how the internet is fueling the industry, especially artists. 

The Grammys just named Dua Lipa "Best New Artist," but she got her start as a YouTube cover artist. Netflix announced that, "The Kissing Booth" - based on a story published online on Wattpad by a 15-year-old - was its most re-watched film of 2018. Steven Spielberg tapped an actress/singer best known for her YouTube channel to star in a reboot of West Side Story.

These are just a few high-profile examples of the international impact new creators can make by starting out using online platforms for their creativity. For every massive success story, there are thousands more Americans who are internet creators, using sites like Etsy, eBay, Instagram, YouTube and Wordpress to work on their creative pursuits and bring in money.

A new study found that 17 million Americans used online platforms to post their music, videos, art, crafts and other works in 2017, earning a baseline of $6.8 billion in revenues. Last year saw the first-ever analysis of the scope of the New Creative Economy. In just a single year, more than 2.4 million Americans joined the new creative economy and total revenues grew by at least 14.8 percent.

The internet's democratizing process enables and empowers creators of all ages, races, and backgrounds. Internet creators don't have to rely on a buyer, publishing house, record label or movie studio in order to sell a product, story, song, or film. 

In the past actors, musicians, fashion designers and writers often had to live in cities like New York or Los Angeles in order to make it, but new creators can now live wherever they want. The study revealed there are thousands of new creators in every state and the District of Columbia, with significantly fast growth in the number of creators in "non-traditional" states like Utah (18.3 percent), Louisiana (17.1 percent) and Georgia (17 percent). More and more Americans across the country are realizing the opportunities available with an internet connection and a good idea.

Each internet platform provides different monetization setups. For instance, YouTube and Tumblr creators can earn revenues through ad-sharing. Etsy and eBay sellers earn income via direct sales, and Instagram influencers and Wordpress bloggers can earn money by promoting a brand.

On top of generating revenues through the platforms' monetization programs, internet creators can mix and match with other platforms to add to their income and following. A popular YouTube channel might also have an Instagram and Patreon page to generate additional revenues, while a Wordpress blogger could also have a Kickstarter to get a new project off the ground. 

It's almost impossible to comprehensively quantify the entire New Creative Economy, and these statistics should be taken only as a baseline for measuring the full economic impact. The study includes just nine platforms (Amazon Publishing, eBay, Etsy, Instagram, Shapeways, Tumblr, Twitch, WordPress and YouTube) with publicly available data. Unfortunately we can't yet fully quantify the number of creators and massive economic impact generated by platforms like Spotify, musical.ly, Snapchat, SoundCloud, Patreon, Kickstarter and Wattpad.

The internet's creative economy is good for everyone, and it's been especially good for the entertainment industries. Universal Music Group claimed to have "the best year for any music company ever" thanks in no small part to music streaming. Actors and recording artists can use social media followers to quantify their popularity, leveraging their fans for better contract negotiations, brand endorsements, and driving ticket sales and music purchases.

Despite this booming ecosystem of online creative success and promotion of new ideas, the entertainment industry still wants to drag us back to the dark ages where they decided what was "good" or "worthy." Policymakers and the public must continue to carefully watch how these "gatekeepers" look to chip away at balanced copyright provisions like fair use and safe harbors - crucial legal frameworks that online platforms rely on to operate.

Internet creativity is good for American jobs and the economy, but it's also necessary to the development of new ideas and the progress of our society.

Joshua Lamel is the executive director of the Re:Create Coalition, an organization that includes the Center for Democracy and Technology, the American Library Association, Public Knowledge, and R Street Institute and advocates for balanced copyright.

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