Monday, November 5, 2007

What The Writers Strike Means to You

What's happening with the Writers Guild of America, sadly, cannot happen for us. We have no union. If we did, we would have more power to affect our future, diminishing the capability for media conglomerates to screw us.

Yet, we're screwing ourselves because few of us individually has the fortitude to withstand draconian contracts foisted upon us by major media outlets, who say to us "take it, or leave it, there's a line of suckers down the block willing to sell their soul (or at least all rights) to be a photographer", and we have no recourse.

(Continued after the Jump)

What you should be watching, is the parallels between what the WGA recognizes is "new media", and how you may well be giving away the farm with your grant rights.

"when they make money off our product we deserve a piece of it" so said the head of the writers guild when the strike was announced.

So often, the arguments be newspapers and wire services is that your photographic contribution is a "contribution to a collective work" and thus, why should you deign to think you're due anything more?

If you're and old school photographer you agreed to paltry rates because the use was in the paper for a day, or the magazine for a week, or the smaller magazines for a month. You rarely complained when your day rates didn't increase with annual cost-of-living increases.

When digital came around, that didn't change right away. A few organizations paid a "digital transmission fee", which, for most, has disappeared. However, back in 1988, the web, iTunes, wireless phone media players, and so forth, didn't exist. Warren Leight, the executive producer of NBC's "Law and Order: Criminal Intent," sad "At the moment, we have no piece of the Internet at all." Funny how the networks are making all the money off their online presences and so forth, and the writers aren't getting a dime.

So too, when paper's assignments were being handed out, it was just for the print edition, but it didn't seem necessary to say that. Then there was the Supreme Court decision Tasini v. New York Times, which found in favor of Tasini, in that, writers deserved a piece of the revenue from other uses of their product. Now, you're being paid the same amount (rarely, if ever, even adjusted for inflation), and your photographs are being used in the electronic edition, the electronic archived versions - accessible to buyers for a fee, on news feeds to phones and PDA's, as backgrounds out of the context of the original story, in video screens in elevators in hotels and office buildings, all monetized by the conglomerates, and conveniently leaving you out.

CNN wrote a good piece Get ready for reruns: Writers hit the picket lines, which addresses this and gives more background.

However, you should be looking to this as an example of how other creatives are seeing money being derived from their work not making it into their pockets. The figure reported by CNN is that the writers currently are getting $0.04 per DVD, and they currently want $0.08. When it's the writers who actually write the storylines, jokes, and so forth, they deserve a piece of the profits, even when it's a contribution to a collective work. So too should you get paid $x for an assignment, for, say, Bloomberg, and each time a subscriber uses a photo, you should get a usage fee. The $x for the assignment should be what gets you there, and you should enjoy the benefits of a well made photo doing well for the wire service, and also for you. The more people that see your product, use your product, or otherwise benefit from it, the more you should be compensated.

Suppose, for example, that you did an assignment for Bloomberg, and were paid $x. And, for every one of their subscribing newspaper clients that used your photo, you got $2.25, and for every weekly news magazine, you got $4.75, how long before you were benefiting substantially? I don't know if these numbers are way too low, or way too high, I am just positing the concept. It's doable now, with online reporting and tracking, and so forth. Further, the other wires should be doing this as well, not just Bloomberg.

Watch the WGA strike, and recognize that, if only in a small way, their successes on this front could, quite possibly benefit you down the line with a model that recognizes pay-for-play for all new media. Once the WGA gets it in place, then too will other creatives.

Be sure to specify your rights granted as print, print/web, print/web/electronic, and so forth. The less ambiguous you are, the better off you will be moving forward.


Please post your comments by clicking the link below. If you've got questions, please pose them in our Photo Business Forum Flickr Group Discussion Threads.

3 comments:

Photographer Italy said...

In Italy the problem is harder.
Photographers are in great difficulties. It's not easy to pay the bills at the end of the month and big editorial clients and agencies are doing everything they want.
Two years ago a lot of colleagues told me that I was crazy when I start a new branch of business: Destination wedding photography for foreginers that come to Italy to get married. After two years 35% of my revenue come from wedding photography... I travel for Italy and I spend some more days to take stock picture of Italy and also the revenue from that kind of work is rising.
Now my position is changed I can apply my fee and I feel free to loose some clients that are not clients but a waste of time, energy and money.
We must remain flexible, we have to try to defend our rights. Otherwise we are going to loose our loved job.

信次 said...

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