PARIS — Their names are Kalys, Athena, Néo, Swan, Fantin, Amantine or Maellia. These are the young French stars with their own YouTube channels — and hundreds of thousands of views and subscribers.
Their online video activity — which may seem trivial, but can be very lucrative — of unwrapping toys and sharing everyday family moments, will soon be regulated by labor law. France's National Assembly has given preliminary approval to a bill focused on the commercial exploitation of the image of children under age 16 on the Internet.
Assembly member Bruno Studer, who represents the Bas-Rhin department and chairs the Committee on Cultural Affairs and Education, first brought the bill, which would put France at the forefront of this issue internationally.
The bill aims to fill a legal void concerning the "new form of entrepreneurship and artistic expression" that has emerged over the past decade, Studer explained to Le Monde. It is foremost a question of extending existing legislation for children in the entertainment industry with income-generating activities like YouTubers, e-sports players (competitive gaming), or social media influencers.
The adopted proposal goes even further by regulating the "gray zone" of family vlogs ("video blogs"), which don't really fall under traditional working relationships but go beyond a simple leisure activity. Article three of the law proposes that the production of online videos that include minors should be taken into account as soon as they exceed a certain time limit, volume of content or "when the dissemination of this content produces direct or indirect income for the benefit of the person responsible for the realization, production or dissemination of it." The limits and thresholds would be set in place later.
There's also a "right to be forgotten" for children depicted on online platforms.
Content creators who hire children under the age of 16, parents or not, will also need to obtain authorization from a public commission. Like with child actors and models, shooting schedules will have time limits and the remuneration for the content (by online advertising or product placement, for example) will be largely blocked by the public bank handling official deposits, until the child is of legal age.
Delegates also introduced a "right to be forgotten" for children depicted on online platforms. Even before they reach legal age, they will be able to contact the video sharing service, which will be "required to stop distributing the image of the person asking as soon as possible if they were a minor on the date of the content's dissemination."
Khalys and Athena, two young popular YouTubers — Studiobubbletea via Instagram
Platforms will also be required to inform users of the law, the rights of the children and psychological risks, to promote a reporting system in liaison with French child protection associations.
"We must hold the companies that participate in the dissemination of these images and derive income from them responsible," a spokesperson said. "They must join in the effort, like the parents." The delegation was in touch with YouTube, owned by Google, over the past few months, and also had "received favorable feedback from Snapchat." Other social networks have refused to join the discussions.
The issue of exposure to violence and pornography will also need to be addressed.
One positive fruit of the effort came in January when the French Federation of Childcare and Toy Industries (FJP) signed an ethical charter with Hasbro, a behemoth in the sector, concerning the use of child influencers in its promotional campaigns.
"This is only a small dimension in the online life of minors," Studer conceded. "The issue of exposure to violence and pornography will also need to be addressed. Nevertheless, this proposal makes it possible to guarantee the best interests of children in a concrete way, to not only protect their privacy and integrity, but also as a reminder that child labor is prohibited without exception."
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