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Why We Fight

With New York in the grip of winter, we (Peter Kinoy and Pamela Yates) went out with our union brothers and sisters to walk the Writers Guild picket lines.

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From HBO, to Viacom, to the Time-Warner Center, the writers are asking for a fair share of the profits they help create. The principal reason the Writers Guild is on strike is that we want a fair share of the income generated by programs we create that are increasingly distributed on digital platforms like the internet, iTunes downloads, and video on demand. The networks, film studios and media corporations, represented by The Association of Motion Pictures and Television Producers (AMPTP) say that the value of the internet is unknown; that a dollar amount cannot be placed on it. That's what they said about the nascent home video market during the last strike 20 years ago, and the Writers Guild conceded a bargaining position that would temporarily reduce their royalty to only $.04 on every VHS (and later DVD) sold while AMPTP developed the home video market. The market exploded, but AMPTP never increased the writers' royalties again, and now is making the same argument regarding the new digital platforms in order to maintain the same low percentage (fool me once…). The Writers Guild is seeking to double the percentage, which would amount to about $.08 per DVD, not an outrageous request. If AMPTP doesn't see any clear financial potential in the digital realm, how do they come up with the figures for the billion-dollar copyright infringement lawsuits they initiate, like Viacom's against YouTube?

 

When you think about it, the writers' demand for fair compensation in these new markets isn't so different from our negotiations as independent filmmakers for licensing our films in the digital realm. Recently we licensed our film "State of Fear" to US Television, and the broadcaster asked that we throw in, at no extra charge, video-on-demand (VOD) rights. We insisted that it was only fair that we get a share of each VOD sale and after standing firm against the broadcaster's argument that the company did not know what the value of this digital platform would be, we were able to negotiate a per download percentage share. So the precedent set if the Writers Guild prevails will affect each and every independent filmmaker in the form a potential new revenue streams, an additional royalty, and an easier time negotiating our rights.

The networks, studios and media corporations have deep pockets. AMPTP has broken off negotiations, and would like to wait out the Guild. It may be a long cold strike, but it will be shorter and it will feel warmer if the independent film community supports the writers. Go to www.wga.org, find out where the next picket line is, and join us. Everyone should share in the proceeds of this brave new digital world.

For all the inside information and news about the strike, go to Nikki Finke's great blog www.deadlinehollywooddaily.com and read the series "Why We Write" by striking Guild members. Here's a video we found on YouTube that explains why we fight:

Pamela
Pamela Yates
pamela@skylight.is

Pamela Yates is a co-founder of Skylight Pictures and currently the Creative Director of Skylight, a company dedicated to creating feature length documentary films and digital media tools that advance awareness of human rights and the quest for justice by implementing multi-year outreach campaigns designed to engage, educate and activate social change.

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