In conducting research for my Dr. Horrible blog post, I came across myriad articles and blog postings about the 2007 Writers Guild of America (WGA) writers’ strike, examining the event from all perspectives. Although there were plenty of opinions about the reasons behind the strike and how information like profit margins and contracts were being interpreted, the core issue seemed to boil down to one philosophical question:
Who Owns Creative Content?
Are creators – from us humble corporate bloggers to multimillion dollar screenwriters, from Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists to bestselling authors, from poets to painters to sculptors to musicians – the true owners of our products? We take an abstract idea and translate it a visual or auditory experience that can be shared among members in a society. Without creators inventing and arranging the words and images and sounds, the art would not exist.
Or are investors the true owners? Their connections within a given industry and financial support are the bridges between imagined concepts and reality. A thought, an idea, an imagined product can be described but not experienced socially when it does not have a concrete manifestation. Without an investor’s resources providing the money, materials, and opportunities, the art would not exist.
The touchy-feely answer is, of course, the creators. Cash is cash no matter where it comes from; creators are unique and provide a rare commodity: the concept of their creation. The power dynamic shifts in the creators’ direction. But someone still needs to transform it into a medium where it can be shared with the world, and creators rarely have the financial means to independently make that transformation on their own.
The WGA Strike and New Media
The general consensus was that the WGA strike was fought over the writers’ cuts in the distribution of old media (as well as setting precedents for new media). The problem was that writers had signed contracts, created content, and received compensation for their work at a certain time in technological development. Later, the studio wanted to distribute the same product in a new medium: the internet. Because the distribution was done online, the costs were very low, and the return (minus any marketing – also low cost if done online) was pure profit.
Were the writers entitled to a cut of this? Were the original investors paying for the distribution of the film under the terms of the contract and technology at the time it was written, or were they paying for the right to make as much money off the film as possible in any way they were able to?
Where do you think the ownership of creative material belongs? Does it all boil down to contracts? What if the contract is unclear or drawn up at a time where there is unforeseeable additional profit to be made from technological advancements or other market expansions? Don’t you think my boss should give me a raise for all of this amazing creative content? Sound off in the comments below.
Come back for the second part of this post later this afternoon, where I’ll talk about playwrights and screenwriters (as well as a creator’s role as a commodity), and what all of this has to do with you as a promotional products customer.
Until next time, keep expanding your brand!