As a creator and a rightsholder myself, I believe in the important role that copyright plays in protecting content while still advancing innovation and creativity.
However, the European Union’s recent approval of the controversial Copyright Directive decisions could have unintended, harmful economic consequences for American creators. American policymakers should not make the same mistakes but instead support our existing balanced copyright framework that has promoted a boom in internet creativity and innovation.
I started my website and business FroKnowsPhotos in 2010 to get more work as a photographer. Instead, I discovered that sharing my photography skills via YouTube videos empowered me to create my own fun and informative content to help photographers and videographers of all skill levels become better from anywhere in the world. I started with zero followers, but I’ve been able to build a huge business around almost a million followers.
As a creator and a small-business owner, I use the internet for my entire life. I rely on internet platforms like YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to reach tens of millions of people around the world. In turn, I generate online revenues from these followers’ purchases of my digital products, such as photo presets and video guides.
I’m the “CeFRO” of my own small business, I employ two full-time employees, providing them with a salary, benefits and a 401(k). Research estimates that, conservatively, the economic value of America’s New Creative Economy is a baseline of $7 billion, with nearly 17 million independent American creators spread throughout the country across all states. My small business operates in Philadelphia, where I’m from, but conceivably I can work from anywhere in the country and world.
My small business also provides free tools to people around the world, helping them to support their creativity and businesses. Over the years I’ve received letters and emails explaining how my free content has helped others to start a photography business and even support their families.
I’m proud to be part of the growing community of American creators using the internet to make money from our creative works. There’s a whole ecosystem of creativity — from design and sports blogs, new music and art, to social commentary and how-to educational videos — that use a wide variety of internet platforms to earn revenues: Instagram, YouTube, Patreon, Bandcamp, Kickstarter, Facebook, Twitter, Twitch, Soundcloud, Spotify and Snapchat are just the start. These platforms have empowered creators to reach billions of users in the United States, Europe and across the globe.
Those online platforms also rely on balanced copyright policies, such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s online safe harbor provisions. The American notice-and-takedown system establishes a system of checks and balances that “takes down” infringing content while enabling legitimate content to stay on sites like YouTube, Twitter, Etsy and more.
Unfortunately, the new European Copyright Directive will establish a much more restrictive model of mandatory upload filtering, making it more likely that platforms like YouTube and Instagram may have to block American-made content to EU users to avoid any threat of liability. This ends up just blocking my ability to sell to European customers and prohibits the free flow of information between the continents. I can continue operating, but the more restrictions that are put on creators, the harder it is to do business.
It would be even worse if American policymakers were to consider exporting this European model to the United States. Our balanced system works. Copyright plays an important role in the global creative economy, and creators and artists have the right to protect their content. But legislation that hurts America’s growing class of creators and innovators is not the right way forward.
The gatekeepers have been removed from the gates. Let’s not instill new gatekeepers that are meant to keep the little person down, while protecting the big monopolies. There has never been a time like this in history — a time where someone with an idea and the desire to better themselves and their family, can use free tools and an internet connection to create a following and a business.
Restrictions are not the answer. Embracing the new age mentality that anyone with an idea can actually make it come to reality and share it with the world is. Do not put the lock back on the gate; we will find a way to break it open one way or another.
Jared Polin is a Philadelphia-based photographer and founder of Fro Knows Photo. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.