I was wondering how the AMPTP thought they could get away with it -- paying writers nothing for ad-driven shows streamed over the internet -- when it hit me: producers are just attempting to do what publishers have already done.
The big battle between publishers and their writers (the freelance kind) began in 1993 in relation to electronic databases such as Lexis-Nexis, but by the time the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in The New York Times Company v. Tasini, that freelance writers retained the copyright to their work in electronic form, it was 2001, and the issue at hand, everyone knew, was the internet.
That Supreme Court victory for freelancers turned out to be either pyrrhic or moot. Beginning, really, by the mid-90s, publications simply added the necessary language to contracts to retain electronic rights to the writer's work. Some pubs went even further, acquiring unrestricted use of the articles "in all media, existing or to be invented in the future..." (Emphasis mine.) Brilliant. Why not alternative dimensions, too? "Writer hereby sells and assigns to Company all rights and titles to the Work in current or alternate universes, including but not limited to: the 5th Dimension, the Bizarro planet and The Land That Time Forgot."
Time was, too, if an article made money through syndication, publishers would give the writer a little something-something for their trouble. (The trouble of having written the piece in the first place.) No more. Basically: Here's this small amount we're paying you for the print version and here's nothing extra for anything else we happen to make from it.
I don't pretend to know all the issues in the writers strike, and WGA members are certainly doing better than most writers (Hollywood is one of the few places where writers can actually make real money), but I do know this: No matter what amount writers are being paid, someone, somewhere, is making a whole lot more off of their work.
It's not exactly the rousing chant you want on the picket lines but: Here's to not getting screwed too badly.
Read more about the strike on the Huffington Post's writers' strike page.