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The Writers Strike

Since the same corporations that the Writers Guild of America is in dispute with, also own the bulk of legacy media outlets, it’s difficult to find much reporting on the issues involved, so it was nice to see this included in the CBS report on the Writers Strike

The first strike by Hollywood writers in nearly 20 years got under way with pickets on both coasts after last-minute negotiations on Sunday failed to produce a deal on payments to writers from shows offered on the Internet.

Right now, the writers get nothing and they want 2.5 percent of the profits, reports CBS News correspondent Bill Whitaker. The studios and producers are offering far less, claiming the technology is too new and their profits too slim.

First of all you should know that a writer, the individual who actually produces the creativity that makes these programs eligible for copyright protection, makes less than a nickel on the sale of a DVD, and currently nothing on a download. They are asking for 2.5% of the profit on a download, not the selling price.

People have been obtaining all kinds of things as downloads for years, not weeks, and the pricing should not be a big mystery. The only people who have a problem with the technology are the “bean counters” who still have people coming in to print out their e-mail because they can’t figure out Outlook Express.

Knowing the way the media companies work, I would have recommended a percentage of the gross, not the profits, because they have tended to overstate the expenses to reduce royalty payments. There is nothing unreasonable in what the writers are asking for, and certainly nothing that should have resulted in a strike, unless the media companies are just on a union busting mission.

6 comments

1 Fallenmonk { 11.07.07 at 5:57 am }

I think it is probably pretty obvious that this is another union busting move just like the last strike. If I were the writers I would have asked for a percentage of the gross as well and a lot more than 2.5%. It is completely reasonable to ask for compensation on all of their work.

2 Bryan { 11.07.07 at 10:06 am }

Their creativity is what they are selling, the actual product, while the media companies provide the advertising and distribution. At lot of music people are deciding they can’t make a living dealing with the media companies and are going independent.

This is another result of media concentration and the corporate fixation with cutting costs to the point that they only sell vaporware. It’s pretty absurd that the people who make the blank DVDs and jewel cases get a larger profit that the people who created the content.

3 Mustang Bobby { 11.07.07 at 12:36 pm }

This also points out the difference between writing for the stage and for the screen. Playwrights own their work and when a production is mounted, they get the royalties which is based on a contract that the producers work out with the writers agent. Essentially the producers rent the play from the playwright, and the Dramatists Guild, of which I’m a member, has very strict dictates about what can and can’t be done to the script. For example, lines and characters can’t be cut without express written permission from the playwright (or his estate’s executor or agent if the playwright has shuffled off this mortal coil), and alterations to the characters that markedly change the playwright’s intent are forbidden. (Case in point: Edward Albee sued to stop an all-male production of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Other playwrights, i.e. Samuel Beckett are even stricter. His estate sued to stop a production of “Waiting for Godot” when they didn’t do the set the way it was described in the script.)

Screenwriters, on the other hand, do not “own” their work; they sell the rights to the studio, and the studios can do whatever they want to it, and the writer is held in as high a regard on the movie set at about the same level as the kid who gets the coffee.

When a play is sold to TV or the movies, the playwright essentially gives up his ownership rights to it. Neil Simon sold “The Odd Couple” to Paramount in the 1960’s to make it into a movie. He got something like $25,000, which was a lot of money in those days, but he’s never gotten a dime from them since, and he got nothing from the TV series that followed. (Since then he’s worked out better deals.)

So I don’t hold out a lot of hope for the striking writers, and I have a feeling that they knew what they were getting into when they went into the business.

And when people ask me if I’d ever write for the movies, I tell them no… even if my writing was good enough to attract that kind of attention.

4 Bryan { 11.07.07 at 1:12 pm }

MASH is a prime example of the problem. The only Altman who has made any real money from the movie and TV show is Chris Altman, who wrote the theme music.

The ‘Net rights and residuals weren’t really addressed in the last contract, because they were above noise level. Now, the studios are shifting to downloading instead of DVD, so they have become important to a writer’s revenue stream.

This is just another way the corporations are misusing their employees to benefit management and shareholders. If the writers can get paid they will be forced into another line of work and just drop writing.

I would love to see a court ruling that strictly interpreted the Constitution, to wit: as these shows are not being used to benefit creativity they are not covered by copyright. That would shake things up.

5 Michael { 11.07.07 at 6:17 pm }

Unfortunately, given DMCA and the tenor of Congress these days, Bryan, if we ever did see a court ruling like the one you describe, it’s a sucker bet that Congress would have a draft bill in place to eviscerate it before the ink dried on Roberts’s signature.

6 Bryan { 11.07.07 at 7:17 pm }

All of the recent legislation on copyright have tended to favor the status quo, not creativity. We need some balance so that it is the creative people who benefit, not stockholders, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon. The media conglomerates will just fill up space with “reality shows” and reruns. If I were an advertiser I would be screaming bloody murder.