What's At Stake In The Writer's Guild Strike

This post, written by Lindsay Beyerstein, originally appeared on Majikthise

The film and tv writers of the Writers' Guild of America are going on strike today, for the first time since 1988.

The writers' contract expired on Wednesday. Negotiations broke down Sunday night between the guild and the Alliance of Television & Motion Picture Producers, despite the intervention of a federal mediator.

It's well-established that writers in these industries get residuals if their work gets reused. Residual rates depend on the medium (broadcast vs. cable, etc.) and the revenue model (advertising vs. subscription).

The writers wants a contract that addresses the ways in which their work is used today.

"The studios are reluctant to make a binding deal on digital distribution issues because they say it's too soon to determine what format will end up being the most successful," according to an article in today's Wall Street Journal.

A bulletin from the WGA sums of the issue as follows:
The Internet is a new distribution channel, and we believe the existing provisions of the MBA require residual compensation for our work when it is re-used on the Internet. Management, however, has refused to accept this interpretation, and has even threatened to do away with residuals altogether in this new medium, or to impose the outdated and unfair home video formula. Given that residual income can amount to between 20 to 50 percent of a writer's income, we clearly can't allow management unilaterally to dictate this most essential contract term.
The bulletin goes on to say:
Now, to jurisdiction: First, we must establish once and for all that writing for new media is covered by our MBA. With increased viewers and ad dollars on the Internet, we must secure our future. The Internet, cellular phones and other new distribution technology are simply channels for viewing the content we create. Again, our position is simple and fair: when we create valuable content for the Companies, we deserve to be paid.
The writers' position is unassailable. The rule is that writers get compensation for re-use, based on the medium and the revenue model. If that's how it works for a TV re-run, that's how it's got to work for an iTunes video download.

Management can't arbitrarily stipulate that some media are off limits for negotiations. The AMPTP's position is illogical, greedy, and unfair.

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