Thanks to DD in the comments for the heads up on Emily Bell's fantastically wrongheaded article in Broadcast (go read it first, but brace yourself). If it wasn't spreading such harmful misinformation, it'd almost be funny. I’ve sent an email complaining about it - yes, I have become that man, the one who writes to newspapers to complain about articles, the line has been crossed. Anyway, I've reproduced the email below just in case anyone else shares the same incorrect view of things:
Dear Ms Bell
Your article in Broadcast on the 7th November, "Striking writers are wrong to think they should be paid more", is perpetuating several common misconceptions. Even the title itself displays a spectacular misunderstanding of how things work.
"Try telling that to the Writers' Guild of America, which went on strike for the first time in two decades, as it insists that screenwriters should be paid more money to cover reformatting rights across digital platforms other than broadcast TV. What a truly bizarre prospect this is - and perhaps only on the west coast of America where the relativity of wealth is so insanely out of kilter could it garner any kind of purchase as a basis for a strike."
First of all, it is not MORE money. Writers earn royalties - or, as they call them in the States, residuals - on a piece of work they authored. If a network makes money from the resulting TV show, then the writer is entitled to a share of that money. It's not extra. It's not a bonus, it's not a perk.
Say Doris Writer creates a TV show. The network puts that show on air, with adverts (or on a pay per view channel), thereby earning money. Doris gets a share of that money, as is right and proper, yes? Yes. All fair enough so far. The network then puts the show out on DVD, and Doris gets a share of the DVD earnings - much like an author gets a percentage of every book sold. Again, as is right and proper, yes? Yes. Fair enough again. Now stay with me, Emily, cause here's where it gets really complicated. If the network then puts that show on the internet, with adverts, it is earning money from that internet showing - the same way it earns money from a TV airing, or from a DVD box set. Doris then, surely, deserves to get a percentage of that too, because the network is earning money from an airing of her show. How, in the name of David Hasselhoff, is that NOT fair to you?
Many writers get most of their earnings from repeat showings - but what if that TV show only ever repeats on the net, or as an iTunes download? Under your rules, Doris wouldn't be entitled to any residuals at all. Still fair?
The writers aren't asking for "more money to cover reformatting rights". They want their hard earned residuals, in whatever medium that may be. It's not such a "bizarre prospect", and it's not only "on the west coast of America". Five minutes of research would have revealed the WGGB/PACT TV agreement, which entitles us UK writers to 5.6% minimum royalties on the "multi-media" exploitation of a standard TV episode we wrote. 5.6%. DVD, downloads, on-demand, yada yada yada. Know how much US writers get on DVDs? 0.3%. They were asking for 0.6%. They even abandoned this shockingly greedy request, in the hope of getting *something* for internet distribution. The studios refused to give them anything. Yeah, the WRITERS are the greedy ones...
"The basis of the claim for greater pay is surely a fairly obvious fallacy - that television is going to offset its declining audiences and therefore production budgets with internet exposure and that scripts acquire an additional value when extended across all platforms for which writers should be paid."
Again, it is not "additional" value. If the network makes money from a repeat - whether that repeat is on TV or the internet - then the writer is entitled to their percentage. It’s a royalty. Like it or not, people are watching less on their actual TV boxes, and either waiting for the DVD or watching online. If TV moves online altogether - sure, maybe it won't move in completely, but it's already leaving some clothes and a toothbrush behind, you know, just in case - then the US writers are going to need a solid residuals deal in place, or they'll suddenly find themselves with drastically reduced earnings.
"It is a formula which many of us might wish we had adopted - if I'm paid for a piece in print then how about a bit more for it popping up on an interweb site?"
Hey, my line of work isn't the same thing at all, but why don't I get exactly the same deal?? Doesn't work that way. You get paid for an article. They print it. That's the end of the story. It appears for one day, and never comes back. They can't "repeat" the newspaper, several weeks later, and get people to buy the same old articles all over again, earning themselves more money. They couldn't sell advertising in that repeat paper. So it's not the same thing. The website is an extension of that same paper. But if they were to collect all your articles and make a TV show about them that went on to sell millions of copies on DVD or online - you'd be entitled to royalties from that. And if they tried to do it without giving you any money, you'd be pretty angry.
"For the first time in five or six years the pendulum is even swinging back against the idea that the advertising-funded model of web content will work. At the nerdiest edge of the internet there is now an argument that advertisers will no longer have to stick their brands to content as there are so many better ways to reach the consumer. "
And here's where you lose me completely. You're saying online delivery of ad-funded content isn't going to work, is too expensive, and will eventually be abandoned by the advertisers altogether? So why are writers greedy for wanting their fair share of residuals for money that *is* earned on those online shows? If it's all going to fall apart anyway, what the hell, give them 20%, won't make a difference, eh?
It is extremely irresponsible to publish such a poorly researched, ill-informed article. In an ideal world, there'd be a retraction, and an apology to the striking writers who are trying to safeguard their livelihoods. Then again, in an ideal world, articles in a publication featuring “television and radio industry news” would demonstrate some basic understanding of, say, the television industry.
This isn't about the millionaires, this is about the people who haven't sold anything for a few years, the ones who live off residuals. Some of them have families. All of them would like to continue to be able to eat and pay their rent. If you genuinely think that's wrong, then that's the "truly bizarre prospect".