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Nancy Scola Headshot

Payment for the Message, But Not on That Medium

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Flexing your creative muscles and posting what you come up with to the Internet can be so fun, so exhilarating that it's easy to lose the thought that perhaps all that work should put some cash in your pocket. Lost in that LCD glow, it's easy to overlook that in many cases, someone is indeed making scratch from that creativity. Facebook is worth billions because of the creative content that users have poured into it. YouTube (now Google) gets paid off of the videos that we have filled it with.

The Writers Guild -- the union representing film and TV writers -- is preparing to declare a strike, and one of the main points of contention between it and the producers' union is that writers aren't getting paid for their work that gets distributed online. Their current contract doesn't reward writers for video clips, short "online only" episodes. Of course, online and in clip form is how a lot of video content is consumed these days. Think of how often you've watched a clip of The Office or a Daily Show monologue online. Multiple that by millions of viewers across the globe.

So much media these days is influenced by the DIY/I-made-this-on-my-MacBook/libertarian culture that drives Silicon Valley. It's no doubt tempting for young writers to think that they might be better off going it alone, without the union. If the writers' guild didn't make a play for online content, then they'd be as much as conceding that point. But the guild is reworking itself to be relevant in the lives of younger/newer writers.

This is a discussion that probably needs to be had in a context broader than just that of TV and film writers. Someone is getting paid, and often handsomely, for creativity that gets distributed online. Very often, it's the big players like Microsoft or Google or YouTube, not the creatives behind the curtain.