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Q&A With the Internet Creators Guild's Laura Chernikoff

DEEPLINKS BLOG
January 19, 2017

We're taking part in Copyright Week, a series of actions and discussions supporting key principles that should guide copyright policy. Every day this week, various groups are taking on different elements of the law, and addressing what's at stake, and what we need to do to make sure that copyright promotes creativity and innovation.

Today's theme for Copyright Week is 21st century creators where we hear from artists who are at the forefront of creativity on the Internet. Joining me for Q&A is Laura Chernikoff, the Executive Director of the Internet Creators Guild, who will share with us her perspective on the future of creativity and how artists are utilizing the Internet to chart a new future and are utilizing the power of distribution they enjoy with an open and free Internet.

Q: What is the Internet Creators Guild? How did it get started?

The Internet Creators Guild is a non-profit membership association that aims to make the online creator profession more sustainable through advocacy.

It was started by Hank Green and a founding board of creators who came together when they saw many individuals facing similar challenges. I became involved through my work for VidCon, the world’s largest online video conference, where I collaborated with a wide range of the industry and learned about many creators’ experiences.

Q: How would you describe an individual who is an online creator?

Online creators independently make content and distribute it directly to their audience through digital platforms. That’s quite straightforward, but it can be a hard thing to define because many stakeholders have developed different ways of looking at it. Lots of terms are tossed around to describe what these individuals are doing.

Take, for example, “influencers,” which emphasizes their reach for a new model of advertising. In the Hollywood context, they’re seen as the next generation of “talent.” At the same time, some groups prefer to speak of “artists” across many fields who are all using similar online distribution mechanisms.

But I return to the core idea that creators are earning their living independently making and distributing their creative work to a community of viewers or followers who they can reach, influence, and communicate with directly.

Q: What has been the most fundamental change in how creators make a living in the last five years?

Five years ago is a great time because that’s when we saw many things started to change. New forces such as brands, advertising agencies, news media, traditional film and television production companies, and talent representation started flocking into digital media. That was combined with emerging platforms and technologies like live video and VR, as well as new revenue models beyond advertising such as crowdfunding and merchandising. These factors all started creating new economic and professional opportunities for creators.

Now, consider the fact that more teenagers watch online video than television, and you’ll see why, in the last five years, there’s been a power shift creating the frenzy around all this activity. Everyone wants what online creators have now - compared to five years ago, when it was relatively niche or unknown.

Q: A complaint we hear often is it is impossible for artists to create high quality content in today's world without new rules and regulations over the Internet. Do you agree with this assessment?

There are certainly many regulations that are still taking shape, and that lack of clarity leads to the potential for the rules to be unfriendly to artists.

For example, many creators support themselves with sponsored deals through endorsements that integrate a brand’s product or service into the content they are regularly produce. The regulations that handle how to disclose that the content is sponsored varies from country to country, change from month to month, and–in the U.S. specifically–are broad guidelines instead of clear rules.

Additionally, more people, especially young people, are interacting with these regulations than ever before. I’m thinking of a teenager uploading a video from their bedroom and suddenly running into the intricacies of fair use and copyright law! Traditionally they would never have encountered these regulations, whereas now they have to find their own resources to navigate the field, get advocates, or just guess at how it works.

It isn’t impossible for artists to create high quality content, but with the regulations still being sorted out today, we do worry that the people making the rules have to understand the needs of artists who will have to understand, interpret, and work within future conditions.

Q: Do you believe policy makers recognize these new models or are they stuck thinking about old business models?

It is certainly getting more well known, but we have a long way to go. There are certain stereotypes spread early and often - the cute boy with hoards of screaming teenage fans, the beauty guru who just talks about makeup, the gamer sitting alone in their bedroom. The full diversity of this profession isn’t understood - the ways people are making money, the types of content they create, where they’re based, the conditions they’re operating in.

At this point, hopefully even policymakers are aware a shift is happening but in all likelihood, they still have more to learn in terms of the intricacies of who is involved, and how it’s changing.

Q: What do policy makers need to understand about online creators? What do they need to know?

Creators are a young group of varied individuals operating in a world that has instant access to other people, opportunities, and ideas. They are communicating with each other, teaching, spreading messages of hope, embracing diversity, and activating their communities to seek change.

If this next generation of artists, communicators, innovators, and entrepreneurs is going to achieve what they are capable of, policy makers must be careful to not inadvertently take action that could dampen this creative renaissance.

Q: To close, what advice would you give an aspiring 21st century creator?

Above all, like any new industry, remember that opportunities and revenue models are changing constantly. Today’s top creators did not achieve what they did the same way as yesterday’s or last year’s top creators.

Next, the good news is that many people are working in this industry in ways you may not see at first– there are production, management, creative, support opportunities beyond just being a solo artist. So if this kind of work is your passion, there are lots of ways to be part of the world of content creation.

Finally, people need to remember why they want to be creators. As this industry grows, fame and money become shiny beacons that some individuals chase, but they don’t see the many hours of hard, solo work. This drive to create must be paramount, you have to have that need for expression if you’re going to find your own voice and do what it takes to get yourself out there. You must have a willingness to connect with others with openness and think about the values you will bring to the table. That will get you through the long nights and hard work far more than dreams of fame or fortune.

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