Online Content: The Importance of Ownership

November 6th, 2007 · No Comments
by Kassia Krozser

Some of your are thinking, “Why is she so obsessed with this strike?” Others, I hope, are seeing the appropriate parallels between what is happening with the Hollywood writers and you. Authors are surely noting that these writers are fighting for better compensation. Publishers are seeing that, as with music, creative talent has leverage.

It is interesting that, despite being the oldest of entertainment industries, the publishing industry is lagging behind its siblings when it comes to online exploitation. I see this as a chance for publishing professionals to get it right while the music and film businesses engage in serial mistakes. Even the gaming monolith has done a better job than the other two.

Other sources are picking up on the idea that this strike will offer opportunity for online content creators and providers. There are many interesting thoughts out there — ranging from “it was a good idea when I started” to “yeah, but…”. Today, we’re dealing with the former.

The Writers Guild of America has issued “strike rules” (thereby destroying my last cherished belief about anarchy and labor), and there are prohibitions against writing for online/mobile media as it pertains to “struck” companies. Some stories I’ve read refer to this as “wiggle room” in the rules (why is today a quotes day?). Actually, it’s nothing of the sort. The WGA holds a contract with the various members of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (“AMPTP”). Since many members of the AMPTP have gone on a media-outlet buying frenzy, yeah, those outlets are party to the rules:

With regard to programming made for non-traditional media (such as the Internet and cellular telephones), this Rule prohibits writing services performed for a struck company in connection with new programming intended for initial release on non-traditional media and the option or sale of literary material for this purpose.

And while it’s possible that some online outfits might eventually become signatories to the “Minimum Basic Agreement” and writers might justifiably be cautious about writing for non-signatory companies, these discussions are focusing on the wrong point.

Focusing energy on writing for online outlets shows an alarming willingness to maintain the status quo. While the proposed Guild residual rate of 2.5% of every online dollar is interesting and possibly quite lucrative (depending on how the credit roll), writers should also be looking at ways to maintain a higher level of compensation and creative control related to their work. Yes, this requires that the writer either partner with the business savvy or develop business acumen. It’s okay. It’s legal.

The current model dictates that the producers “own” the show. Flip it around and turn the producers into distributors (currently, some wear both hats) and you’re seeing a different compensation model. Residuals are just one avenue for writers rather than the end game. Companies like Break.com are soliciting writers because they see the potential for quality content.

The money? It’s still uncertain how much, how long, when. Some of these online companies are funded by parents with deep pockets — and a willingness to pay for talent and quality content.

The WGA cannot enter into agreements with every online video startup and given the the fluid nature of this market, it might not be in the best interest of anyone to be bound in this manner (which is what the producers are saying, though their gist is different). But guidelines can be drafted, utilized, and, best of all, revamped as the market grows, settles, contracts, grows, and wanders off in new and interesting directions.

There is one certainty in this new world: he who owns the content, owns the content. Once upon a time, artists found it more efficient to give away the rights they should keep. In today’s changing world, it makes more sense for artists to adopt a stingier attitude.

[tags]writers guild of america, strike, wga, writing, publishing, break.com[/tags]

File Under: Non-Traditional Publishing