3/15/2011

Impact of digital technology on earnings of visual artists

Thoughtful people are able to imagine consequences, with just a modest amount of information about causes. It's a sign of intelligence, and the reason that some folks succeed. On the other hand, it's better to have more data than less. And for those interested in the impact of digital technology on the earnings of visual artists, more data is now available - a great deal more. Martin Kretschmer and Sukhpreet Sing of Bournemouth University, and Lionel Bently and Elena Cooper of Cambridge University, have published Copyright Contracts and Earnings of Visual Creators: A Survey of 5,800 British Designers, Fine Artists, Illustrators and Photographers. It's 178 pages of data, charts and analysis; and their findings are unexpected if not downright surprising:
There is a common perception that digitisation has prompted changes in creative labour markets. In particular, it is widely assumed that exploiters insist on "grabbing rights" (i.e. broadly conceived assignments of rights), that visual artists are not able to negotiate, that they are paid less and less, and that they are compelled to waive their moral rights. This study suggests a much more equivocal picture. In place of a straightforward narrative of decline, the results of the survey suggest that in most fields there has been less change over the last decade than one might have expected: that, terms of exploitation are most often about the same. That is not to say that there are no discernible changes in particular occupations and media. Respondents and interviewees identify some important shifts. Perhaps surprisingly, it seems there are changes in practice that are, from the creator's perspective, both positive and negative. The most positive change is identified amongst the fine artists where half (50%) see their personal bargaining position as having improved, with only 6% perceiving a weakening. The most disturbing changes are in relation to photographers. About half of all photographers (49%) say their bargaining position has worsened, with only 22% reporting improvements. A significant percentage of photographers (40%) report an increase in assignments (compared with 6% who think they have decreased). Moreover, 24% report an increase in moral rights waivers (compared to 3% who identify a decrease), and a decline in the practice of attribution. 31% of photographers see attribution as decreasing over the last decade, and only 8% increasing. 28% say income from secondary use has decreased, while only 16% say it has decreased.