Monday, November 12, 2007

My take on the Writers strike

While I was gone, well, there was a disturbance in the Hollywood force. As predicted, the Writers Guild of America went on strike, and a lot of shows with short lead times have gone off the air.

Now, the Writers have often been presented as these millionaire babies who are just being greedy, but in looking at the situation, I think they have some legitimate grievances and management comes off really badly, especially given history.

You see, the Guild members receive a residual of 2.5 cents on the dollar every time one of their shows or movies airs on television. However, to help the major media companies launch the home video revolution in the 1980's, the Guild agreed to take a far lower rate on those products(about 0.2 cents per dollar) with the understanding that when video took off, the rate would be bumped up. Alas, that hasn't happened. That is roughly 4 cents on a 20 dollar DVD. So naturally, the writers aren't happy their generous concession has been taken advantage of for so long.

Now, the writers aren't even looking for 2.5 cents/$ on those sales that they might have enjoyed once. No, they just want the rate to go up to about 0.4 cents and the producers are still balking at that, which is insane when you consider how much revenue they stand to lose because of the strike. Literally, they are willing to lose vast sums of money over a few fractions of a penny on the dollar. It is madness.

The other sticking point is the fact that writers don't receive compensation when their material is distributed electronically... not one cent because such use is deemed to be "promotional" and thus not subject to the conditions of the Writers Guild Contract, and if you believe some of the executives, no money is being generated by these views, despite the fact that ads are shown, and I doubt that the sites presenting this material are showing those ads out of the goodness of their hearts. No, they are making money on the work of the Writers Guild(and its associated Guilds).

Of course, these are the same people who want the federal government to set up an Executive branch position for the express purpose of policing Intellectual Property, which again makes me believe that there is a lot of money to be had in this area that the producers don't want to share with those who actually do the work. And if the producers relented and rightly compensated writers for their work, they would likely find that they had rather strong allies in the Guild because they really would have something to lose from piracy. As it stands now, if people are watching their work over at a major network site, from iTunes or from a Bittorrent site, it doesn't matter because they receive the same amount of money from all three of the above: zero dollars and zero cents.

I know that the producers are afraid of giving in on these two points because it will set a precedent for the upcoming contract negotiations with the Screen Actors Guild and the Directors Guild, but really, I think they are being absolutely Scrooge-like here.

The list of issues the Guild is working on for this new contract can be found here, and there are some other noteworthy issues mentioned. For instance, the Guild is fighting for writers who work on animated series and movies to be treated the same as those who work on live action projects.

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