Digital Theft is Wage Theft for Millions of Creative Professionals

Mar 7 · 3 min read

There are over 5.5 million Americans who make their living producing the movies, TV shows, songs, and theater performances you know and love. These creative professionals rely on the sale of legitimate content to earn fair wages and benefits. And when their creations are stolen through digital theft and other means, a piece of their income is stolen as well, hurting their ability to provide for their families, contribute to their communities, and retire with dignity.

As outlined in DPE’s new factsheet, Intellectual Property Theft: A Threat to Working People and the Economy, copyright-protected creative industries power local economies across the United States, contributing more than $1.2 trillion to the nation’s GDP every year and directly employing millions, including many union members who earn family-sustaining wages.

“When our work is stolen, we’ve been robbed of our living. We are artists, but we are also working people who depend on the intellectual property that we create to pay for our homes, families, health care, and more.”

- Marc Sazer, Violinist and American Federation of Musicians Local 47 member

2.1 million people work in motion picture and television production

including actors, animators, assistant directors, assistant producers, boom operators, camera operators, casting directors, gaffers, grips, musicians, screenwriters, script supervisors, special effects coordinators, and others.

1.9 million people work in live and recorded music

including arrangers, audio engineers, backup singers, editors, lighting technicians, mixers, session artists, song writers, stage managers, and others.

126,000 people work in live theater and other performing arts

including actors, choreographers, dancers, makeup artists, musicians, scenic artists, set designers, sound technicians, stage managers, stagehands, ushers, and others.

Despite common misconceptions, digital theft has a real impact on the lives of the creative professionals who produce these works. Because stolen movies and music decrease the demand for legal, paid sales, this kind of theft cuts into the resources available to employ people in creative industries and reduces the real earnings of professionals already working in them. For example, cast and crew members on television shows receive residuals in the forms of wages, healthcare and/or retirement contributions after the original broadcast.

Though many expected the rise of legal paid streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu and Spotify to reduce the demand for illegal content, digital theft of music, television shows, movies, software and other published works has continued to rise. Globally, digital theft grew 1.6% from 2017 to 2018, facilitated by over 300 billion visits to illegitimate websites. The United States topped the list of countries with the most visits to these illegal streaming and file-sharing websites, followed by Russia, India and Brazil.

“Jobs in the entertainment industry are made possible because of strong copyright laws. Professional performers, directors, electricians, production drivers, stage hands, wardrobe designers, writers and others have good union jobs and health care because consumers pay to see their work.”

- Gabrielle Carteris, Actress and SAG-AFTRA President

Strong copyright protections developed with today’s digital age in mind are needed to help ensure fair compensation for the professionals who imagine, develop, design, and give life to creative works that are responsible for supporting more than a trillion dollars in economic activity and millions of jobs.

For more information about digital theft and other issues impacting professional and technical employees, please see DPE’s website:


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A coalition of 24 national unions representing more than four million professional, technical, and other highly skilled workers