Monday, March 30, 2020

Creative sector included in major relief packages as the world battles COVID-19

By Emmanuel Legrand

Governments around the world have been rushing to put together relief packages to sustain crumbling economies, as the world faces an unprecedented situation created by the coronavirus pandemic.

  Very early on, organisations in Europe, North America and elsewhere in the world representing the creative sector have alerted their respective governments of the dire situation faced by the creative economy, following waves of cancellations of events, festivals and tours and confinement measures preventing concerts, shooting of movies and other creative endeavours and cultural projects.

  The goal for these organisations was to ensure that creatives would be included in the various packages put together by governments. That was the case in the USA, UK, France Germany and many other countries.

Relief measures for creatives

  In the USA, Congress passed a $2 trillion economic stimulus package, known as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The $300 million small-business portion of the bill made self-employed and independent contractors (including songwriters, musicians, road crews, sound engineers, producers) eligible for loans and grants.

  Billboard reported that organisation such as the Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI), Songwriters of North America (SONA), theNational Music Publishers Association worked with legislators to include wording such as "sole proprietors, independent contractors and self-employed" as the beneficiaries of the bill's provisions. The bill also includes additional funding of $75m for the National Endowment for the Arts to help support creative projects.

  “Many music industry professionals are not eligible for traditional unemployment benefits because they are self-employed,” said NSAI executive director Bart Herbison. “That’s why is was imperative that the federal stimulus package contain language that made them eligible for relief. Now they will be able to apply for immediate financial help for any income they’ve lost over the past few weeks and income they will lose throughout the rest of this year.”

Helping small businesses survive

  "This will make much-needed relief in the form of small business loans and grants available to all who need it.... Our songwriters are the ultimate small business owners and need this help right now," added SONA co-founder Michelle Lewis.

  Mitch Glazier, chairman/CEO of the RIAA, said that access to unemployment insurance, small business loans and payment deferrals, and more funding for the NEA will provide relief to musicians and "will ensure that hundreds of thousands of musicians can continue to pay rent, put food on the table, and care for their children during this public health crisis.” More industry reactions to the CARES ACT can be found here.

  In Europe, the European Union passed the Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative, a €37bn stimulus package, but European policy-makers were urged to add specific measures for the cultural sector. European Parliament Culture and Education Committee Chair, Sabine Verheyen, said that under the Initiative, Member States will be able to use Structural Funds money "to support small businesses and employment schemes." 

Swift and decisive actions needed

  But, Verheyen added, "it is imperative that businesses and individuals in the cultural and creative sector – whose livelihoods are under existential threat – get access to this financial support. My message to Member States is clear – this money must reach them immediately."

  The groupment of European rights societies GESAC asked for "swift and decisive action to protect European creativity and culture," in particular that "part of the emergency funds provided by the EU is available to creators and the cultural sector."

    European organisations representing creators have asked that emergency measures include: Immediate access to full sick pay including isolation periods for freelance workers; Possibility for authors to be covered by public health insurance during the crisis and the aftermath; Adjustment of unemployment schemes where available to ensure continued access; Immediate access to guaranteed basic income such as welfare benefits aimed at people without any income who do not have rights to unemployment benefits; Options for replacement income for the crisis period, Deferment/support for living costs (e.g. rent, mortgage, loans); and Tax relief.

Urgent help for self-employed

  In other countries such as France, government and private/public initiatives have come in support of the creative sector. The newly created Centre National de la Musique has set up a €11.5m emergency relief fund. Other organisations such as rights society SACEM have aslo taken energency measures such as advances, access to loans, and a €6m emergency fund.

  In the UK, Chancellor Rishi Sunak unveiled a package that includes aid to the country's self-employed, including a taxable grant worth up to 80% of self-employed workers’ average monthly profit over the last three years, that will pay up to £2,500 ($3,000) a month, and initially last three months.

  The UK's Music Managers Forum noted that these measure will not pay out until June. UK Music acting CEO Tom Kiehl also called for “immediate and urgent help for the self-employed.People are in desperate need with bills to pay. They need financial support now and cannot wait until June for the scheme to kick in or wait weeks for payments under Universal Credit."

Using royalties' black-boxes 

  The MMF estimated that there were already 2,100 cancelled shows, and that the live music sector has already lost some over £50m ($60m), with another £68m in predicted losses if shows are cancelled over the next six months.  

  In addition, the Musicians UnionHelp Musicians UKPRS for Music and PPL have set up or contributed to hardship funds. But some voices in the music industry have asked for more from streaming services. 

  Graham Davies, CEO of The Ivors Academy, said that maybe it was time for services to allocated the so-called "black-box" of royalties from unidentified works, to a special fund to help artists weather the crisis. “We call for these black box royalties to be paid into hardship funds for musicians so that targeted help can get to those most in need,” said Davies. 

Set up crisis funds

  Crispin Hunt, Chair of the Academy, added: "It is time the platforms and major labels provided help to the people that create the content on which their businesses depend.”

  In Germany, a €50bn package was set up by the government for small business, small businesses, self-employed individuals, and members of the liberal professions, which includes companies and individuals in the cultural sector. It includes one-time payments of up to €9,000 for three months, for businesses with up to five employees; and one-time payments of up to €15,000 for three months, for businesses with up to 10 employees. 

  Performance rights society GEMA also pledge for a €40m crisis fund. The aid fund will be provided in a two-stage plan: in a first stage, funds will be made available to composers and lyricists who also act as performers; and in a second stage to support songwriters and composers facing “individual hardship cases."

Imperative to support creators

  In Sweden and Norway, governments have set up cultural response funds of €45m and €27m, respectively. Netflix has also pledged to create a $100 million fund to help with hardship in the creative community.

  Will all these measures be enough? Government and industry bodies will have to continue to monitor the situation and act when required, as suggested by Jean-Michel Jarre, the French electronic music composer and performer and President of the International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers.

  In a letter sent on behalf of the four million creators represented by CISAC, and co-signed with the organisation's vice-president, Jarre said it was "imperative that governments in all countries act for creators now and ensure the highest level of support possible." 

All in it together

  Jarre added that following the a collapse of cultural and entertainment activity, creators "urgently need rescue measures now, and only the lever of government policy will have the impact required."

  One thing is certain, if the crisis lasts, it will have a long and significant impact on the creative sector, and more help and more solidarity will be required. 

  As ASCAP President & Chairman Paul Williams puts it, "We are all in this together, and ASCAP will continue to do everything in our power to ensure that music creators can weather this storm.”

[During the confinement, stay home, stay safe and continue to follow basic rules: wash hands, social distancing, etc.] 

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