MPs call for a new champion for freelance rights, to improve pay, working conditions and protection against AI

  • 10 Apr 2024

The NUJ says the culture select committee’s report is full of helpful recommendations and ideas.

The report,  Creator remuneration, from the Culture, Media and Sport Committee highlighted the precarious rates of pay and employment conditions faced by many working in the creative industries, the dangers of AI and recommended that a Freelancers’ Commissioner be established.

David Ayrton, NUJ freelance organiser, said:

“This is an important report containing some interesting recommendations, including the creation a Freelance Commissioner, with appropriate powers and cross-departmental oversight in government, to act as an advocate for creative freelances, and of other freelance and self-employed people. Freelances get a raw deal in terms of legal protection and rights at work, and suffer from outdated copyright and intellectual property regulations, which are weak in terms of the ability to enforce their rights.

“The journalism sector has suffered from stagnant freelance fees, with some companies still paying the same rates they did 20 years’ ago and we need someone to champion freelances’ rights.

“The union supports the introduction of a statutory private copying scheme to remunerate freelances. The NUJ also echoes the concerns laid out in the report that the government has not acted to prevent creators’ concerns that their IP (intellectual property) is already being used in AI development without licence or any practical means of recourse. There must be proper mechanisms to enforce fair compensation for use of creators’ work by AI developers.”

Fair Deal for Freelances: NUJ campaign

NUJ freelance charter

Conclusions and recommendations: future-proofing creator rights

Revenue from private copying from abroad is an important source of income for creators, remunerating them for the use of their works that is integral to the demand for electronic devices. Not only does a lack of such a scheme in the UK prevent British creators from receiving payments from the domestic market, but it has also put their payments from abroad under threat due to a lack of reciprocity with other countries.

We recommend the Government work with the UK’s creative industries to introduce a statutory private copying scheme, which, at minimum, safeguards reciprocal payments from abroad, to be produced within the next twelve months.

Despite our previous recommendations that the Government win back the trust of creators regarding their concerns over AI, its working group has not been able to bring forward a code of practice on AI and intellectual property. Although the Government asserted that it could consider legislating were agreement not reached, it has not indicated that it will do so. It is unlikely that simply conducting a further period of engagement with the sectors, with no clarity over its overall aims, will have any meaningful effect. We are concerned that the status quo simply favours AI developers, given creators’ concerns that their IP is already being used in AI development without licence or any practical means of recourse. (Paragraph 39)

The Government must ensure that creators have proper mechanisms to enforce their consent and receive fair compensation for use of their work by AI developers. It should set out measurable objectives for the period of engagement with the AI and rightsholders sectors, which it has said ministers will lead on, and provide a definitive deadline at which it will step in with legislation in order to break any deadlock. We will continue to monitor developments in this area and recommend that our successor Committee do the same next year.

Freelancers make up a significant portion of the creative workforce but lack a single clear voice representing their interests to Government. This has resulted in a decline in pay and conditions that will cause long-term harm to the sector. (Paragraph 58)

 We recommend that the Government appoint a Freelancers’ Commissioner, with appropriate powers and cross-departmental oversight, to advocate across Government in the interests of creative freelancers, and of other freelance and self-employed people more broadly.

Many creators experience poor working conditions, including inconsistent use of contracts and terms and conditions, uneven responses to bullying, harassment and discrimination and a lack of proper support, accounting, training and development. This compounds the poor pay available in the profession and its high barriers to entry.

The Government should acknowledge and address issues around contracts and working conditions by implementing the recommendations of the DCMS-sponsored Good Work Review, using the sector’s CREATOR campaign as a basis for fair working standards.

The report also made recommendations concerning the music industry and music streaming.

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