First-of-its-kind law in Illinois allows children to sue parents for making money off of online content
Acknowledging growing concerns over the exploitation of young 'influencers' on social media platforms, Illinois has enacted the United States's first law to safeguard minors featured in online videos. The law will also ensure that these young influencers are properly compensated.
The legislation, as per a CNN report, was inspired by the advocacy of 16-year-old Shreya Nallamothu from Normal, Illinois.
How it all started
The teenager's concern reportedly began when scrolling through social media during the pandemic. She noticed an increasing number of children featured in family vlogs. These videos made her "realise family vlogging is putting very private and intimate moments on the internet."
This prompted her to write a letter to Democrat Dave Koehler, her state senator, urging him to consider protective legislation for these children.
"The fact that these kids are either too young to grasp that or weren’t given the chance to grasp that is really sad," says Nallamothu.
Influenced by her letter, last week, Illinois Governor J. B. Pritzker signed into law an amendment to the state's Child Labor Law.
Among other things, the new law allows teenagers over the age of 18 to sue their parents if they were featured in monetised social media videos and not adequately compensated. These rights mirror the rights held by child actors.
The new law draws inspiration from the 1936 "Jackie Coogan's Law," which was designed to prevent parents from exploiting child actors' earnings.
Starting July 1, 2024, parents in Illinois will be obligated to allocate 50 per cent of earnings from a video's content into a blocked trust fund for the child 'influencer'.
The exact amount, however, will depend on the duration for which the child is featured in the video. For instance, if a child appears in 50 per cent of a video, they'll be liable to receive 25 per cent of the earnings. Similarly, for a video they're in 100 per cent, they will get 50 per cent of the earnings.
However, this rule applies only when a child appears on screen for more than 30 per cent of the vlogs shared in a one-year period.
Talking to CNN, Senator Koehler said that they "understand that parents should receive compensation too because they have equity in this, but we don't want to forget about the child."
Why is such a law necessary?
Recently, there has been a rising trend of YouTube parent vloggers and social media influencers posting frequent videos sharing personal details about their lives.
Children often play a significant role in these monetised videos, yet there is no legal requirement for parents to share the video earnings with the children.
Similarly, kid influencer accounts that often earn as much as $20,000 for sponsored posts rarely benefit the children. These accounts are managed by parents due to age restrictions on social media platforms.
"We know with the explosion of social media that parents are using it to monetise kids being on videos. If money is being made and nothing is set up for the children, it's the same thing as a child actor," said Koehler.
Experts say that this legislation "is a long time coming." Jessica Maddox, an assistant professor studying social media influencer communities, expressed hope that other US states will follow Illinois' example.
She said, "Social media labour and careers are becoming increasingly common and viable forms of income, and it’s important that the law catches up with technology to ensure minors aren’t being exploited."