Striking Writers Point Out Viacom Hypocrisy; Claiming Online Video Is Worthless While Suing YouTube For $1 Billion

from the wave-or-a-particle? dept

While I tend to agree with Tim Lee's comments about why the Writers Guild strike is misguided (and the guild itself is increasingly obsolete), it is rather amusing to see the hypocrisy of the studio bosses, claiming that they won't pay the writers anything for the use of their content online because there's no money online at the very same time that they're suing YouTube for $1 billion, claiming they need to protect their valuable online content. Boing Boing points us to an amusing video by some of The Daily Show's writers highlighting this contradictory stance:
Of course, while it's easier to feel sympathy for the writers (and very, very, very difficult to feel any for the studios), the studios are correct that the content is promotional (and they're wrong when they sue for $1 billion). Just as most people aren't paid extra every time a product they helped create gets sold, the writers are only asking for trouble if they really do want residuals for every use of the content they write. It's the same thing that's caused the problems the entertainment industry faces in the first place: the ridiculous demand that every time any piece of content is used for any purpose that money must change hands. The writers are paid by the studios to write content. If the studios are making more money by creatively promoting the shows, then they can start to pay the writers more. But setting up a system where every use requires payment is simply perpetuating the problems the industry is facing and will make it harder for the industry to adjust to the rapidly changing market. While we'd all like the writers of shows we like to get paid well, setting up a system that will cripple the overall distribution of the content won't do them any benefit. It will just open up avenues for other, non-TV, content to take their place.
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Filed Under: promotional goods, writers strike


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  1. identicon
    Midori, 16 Nov 2007 @ 6:53am

    Pay now vs. Pay later tradeoff

    Hi Mike!

    Most people aren't paid extra every time a product they helped create gets sold because they usually are paid fairly upfront.

    The reason the residual system exists, is to let the studios avoid paying the full cost up front for services rendered. (This is all work-for-hire stuff.) The same way you don't pay your plumber or electrician upfront for the whole job. There's nothing unfair about that, is there?

    Why percentages, instead of straight up cash? Because it's cheaper in the long run, given that most movies are flops. Why pay loads of money for every script up front, when you can work it to only pay for the big successes? The lowest possible percentages are still in the studio's best interests.

    You said "If the studios are making more money by creatively promoting the shows, then they can start to pay the writers more." You've heard of Hollywood accounting? Making money, as in net profit? Never happens. So how do you objectively measure when a residual gets paid? Well, by taking a percent of the gross of the project wherever it gets used.

    Your main point, that tracking each individual use of content is hard, and then paying residuals on it still stands. P2P distribution of anything makes counting viewers really difficult. I don't think that's the kind of definitional problem the writers are striking about, though.

    For a fairly detailed, snarky description of the economics of residuals, etc, told by a writer, see Kung Fu Monkey's blog here:
    http://kfmonkey.blogspot.com/2007/11/albatross.html
    and here:
    http://kfmonkey.blogspot.com/2007/11/why-strike-ii.html

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