Opening address to the World Intellectual Property Organization’s (WIPO) Diplomatic Conference
Delivered by Ferne Downey, ACTRA National President
June 20, 2012
Good morning. My name is Ferne Downey and I am a Canadian actor.
I am honoured to be invited to spend a few minutes with you sharing my story. I’ve performed on many stages in my life – none quite like this.
I’m here today to urge you to conclude this Treaty. It’s long past time the right for audio-visual performers to protect our image and get paid for our work was recognized in international law.
It’s quite a journey that we undergo as artists. As young performers we start out struggling in isolation and seclusion before discovering the strength and solidarity that comes from being part of a large cast on a show and a global community of actors.
No matter where we live in the world, we all share the actor’s dream of connecting with our audiences, inhabiting the written word and bringing forth a performance that transcends its individual components.
Life as a professional artist makes for a beautifully improbable life.
As actors, we also share the same challenges.
When I was in high school it was my father’s wish that I would study law. And I might have had a good life if I had pursued that opportunity.
But I had another idea – I was taken with the dream of making collaborative art.
So instead of studying law, I studied the theatre. It takes dedication to commit oneself to take words and story and ideas and inhabit them fully, to continually refine your craft and make such beautiful stories come to life.
Looking back, I am proud of my younger self for having the courage to follow her heart and her passion. It was not an easy choice – not only because my father was less than thrilled (he’s since come around) but because the life of an artist is never an easy path.
It’s a precarious career filled with uncertain work opportunities and equally fluctuating paycheques. It’s a career built on taking risks, embracing change and reinventing oneself.
For actors, the pressure to adapt is constant. And with the digital revolution, that pressure has never been more persistent.
Now days classically trained stage actors are becoming digital videogame heroes by donning performance capture suits.
International movie stars are creating their own web-based TV series.
And even as I speak, some new platform for distributing my work is being invented that yesterday was just someone else’s flight of fancy.
We are living in a world of transformative change that accelerates daily.
But at the centre of all of this change is one constant – storytelling.
Social media, tablets, internet TV’s, mobile phones, RED cameras – these are all just tools that allow us to connect, to share and to tell our stories.
And as our world gets smaller, it’s more important than ever that, while we nurture the ties that bind us together, we also celebrate what makes us unique.
Creating engaging content shouldn’t be the purview of a privileged few with the deepest pockets and the backing of a major corporate studio. Performers from every corner of the globe must be empowered with the support we need to commit to the life of a professional artist – and make a living wage.
Performing is my passion. But it’s also happens to be my job.
Being a professional artist means being able to sell my skill and my work in exchange for fair compensation. My creative efforts put a roof over my head and food on my table.
It’s tricky, like the majority of creators out there I don’t make a living from a single source – I do it by stitching together several smaller paycheques from a variety of projects.
I get paid an hourly wage when I’m on set, or in studio working.
And thanks to my union’s collective agreements – if my TV show or movie finds an audience, I also get paid when it’s sold through royalties and use fees.
Bernard Cowan – a brilliant Canadian performer and one of my union’s early visionary leaders said: “Your performance once given is gone; if recorded, it will live forever – for which you should be paid.”
This model can work – with the right tools artists can make a fair living from our work.
We’re driven, financially savvy, creative entrepreneurs who can do incredible things – but only if the deck isn’t stacked against us. And right now, it is.
Unfortunately, while digital technology has empowered artists, it has also left us more vulnerable than ever.
This is why it is critical that we have an international mechanism to safeguard our rights. Without it, audiovisual performers are finding our work is being exploited and stolen. Our images are being used in ways we would never choose.
If we are to achieve our creative potential, artists must be compensated fairly for our efforts. Those who use the work must also respect the integrity of the artistic creation.
It is true that past work can be an artists’ greatest long term financial asset. We can benefit from ongoing returns from content after it was created, but only if we are able to hold on to the copyright in our performance.
And that’s what brings us together today in Beijing.
What happens here over the next week will affect the lives of performers just like me all over the globe.
By creating an audiovisual treaty that gives performers economic and moral rights to our work…
…You can affirm these rights into international law.
…You will help to make content accessible to audiences while giving those who create the content, the compensation and control they need to keep on creating.
…You will help new business models to flourish and enable audiovisual content to be a key driver of the global creative economy.
…And you can make sure that fewer performers have to make the choice between feeding our families and feeding our souls.
We know that the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty has made a tangible difference to millions of recording artists.
It has put money in their pockets. It has allowed them to keep being professional artists, to keep making the music that makes us think, makes us cry, makes us dance.
A WIPO AudioVisual Treaty can do the same thing for audiovisual performers.
All performers around the globe deserve to be fairly compensated and protected for the work we do. It’s time for an International Treaty that recognizes that fact.
When I chose to be a professional artist I knew it wouldn’t be an easy road. It was a bold step and a brave choice. But I knew it was the right thing to do.
I urge you to also make a bold step and a brave choice.
Conclude this Treaty. Recognize the rights of audio-visual performers. Give us the tools we need to keep telling our shared stories, to keep being players in this digital revolution and global exchange of ideas.
It’s the right thing to do.