It’s the second week of the Writers Guild strike, and things are just starting to get ugly. Yesterday, the AMPTP went Godwin and dropped the word “blacklist” into a press release. The WGA responded with a concise and focused message:
Mr. Counter’s charge is as offensive as it is untrue. To accuse the Writers Guild of America of blacklisting, when it was we who suffered the most from it in the past, is simply Mr. Counter’s desperate attempt to divert attention from the fact that it was he who walked out of the negotiations, and it is he who refuses every day to return to the table. The WGA has an offer on the table and is ready and willing to meet with the AMPTP any day, anywhere.
If this was an Internet forum, the producers would already have lost the argument. But in the world of old media, the corporations that employ the producers also employ the newspapers, and it’s unclear where public support currently lies.
I’m not going to tell you what to think. I’m just going to tell you what the writers and producers each want, in their own words. New Media Residuals are the main sticking point in this strike, so let’s focus on that.
(Aside: it’s probably not a coincidence that the WGA makes their contract proposals easy to read, in a plain text web page, while the AMPTP hides all their contracts inside PDF documents.)
Here’s what the WGA wants, according to their Contract 2007 Proposals:
Non-Traditional Media Residuals
WGA Proposal: We propose all TV and theatrical content earn a residual payment of 2.5% of the distributor’s gross for re-use on non-traditional media, including the Internet, cellular technology and any other delivery system not already covered in the MBA [Minimum Basic Agreement].
Let’s do the math: that means, for a $1.99 iTunes download of a House episode, the writer would get less than five cents. Surely that seems reasonable? I mean, you wouldn’t have any content if someone didn’t write it; and if you’re making money from that content, it seems fair to give the people who created it a little piece of the action.
Well, the AMPTP disagrees. Here’s their proposal, as described in the Comprehensive Package they presented during negotiations on October 25, 2007:
11. Residual Payments for Theatrical and Television Motion Pictures…
(C) Add a provision to the MBA stating that there shall be no residual payments for the exhibition or distribution of theatrical and television motion pictures, whether in whole or in part, in new media (other than as set forth in the “Sideletter on Exhibition of Motion Pictures Transmitted Via the Internet”). For this purpose, the term “new media” means any digital distribution platform now known or which is hereafter developed during the term of the 2007 Writers Guild of America Theatrical and Television Basic Agreement, including, but not limited to, digital video on demand, alternative digital broadcast channels, Internet exhibition, PDAs, broadband and cell phones.
Translation: the corporations want to pay nothing in residuals. Zero, zilch, nada.
They want to turn the clock back to the 1950s, when they could buy a show like I Love Lucy–which is still running today–and play it over and over again without ever paying the writers another penny. Viacom has been milking that cash cow for over fifty years, but the writers have gotten absolutely nothing.
Does that seem right to you?