Illustration of Derek Powazek by Adam Ellis

A Geeky Take on the WGA Strike

So if you’re missing your Jon Stewart, you probably know that the WGA is on strike. That means, unless this gets worked out soon, your television is about to get a lot more boring. And that sucks for everyone.

I’m an author. I actually wrote a book that I theoretically get royalties on. I say “theoretically” because it went out of print before that happened, but whatever. The point is, my loyalties are with anyone who puts words in the right order for a living.

But there’s there’s a faint smell of Luddite in the room. Talk about the strike turns quickly from fat cat studio execs squeezing the creatives unfairly (a story I readily understand) to the big, bad, scary internet. Writers don’t get paid for downloads! I’m not the first geek to say this, but, yeah. Duh. Welcome to the internet.

Even the WGA’s own infoporn confabulates the internet with traditional methods of distribution.

To recap, when writers’ work appears on the internet, they don’t get paid. And they’re saying this on YouTube, where millions of people post their original work, for free, every day. Am I the only one who sees a bit of irony in this?

The WGA is okay with using the ease of distribution on the internet to spread messages, so long as the message is to pay them for their other messages.

Even worse is this behind-the-scenes look at the folks from The Office on the picket line.

Standout quotes: “You’re watching this on the internet, a thing that pays us zero dollars.” Hey, me too! And: “Don’t run ads in this and then not pay us, though.” Guess what, that’s exactly what happens on YouTube, and every other site you visit.

Look, I’m with the writers. Really, I am. Put the screws to ’em, I say. Fight for a fair deal. You deserve one. We all do.

But before you start talking about the internet, read up. Internet distribution is not the same as TV or DVD. A DVD buyer is someone who owns a shiny plastic disc. Codifying a viewer online is a lot trickier. If I watch half a show on NBC’s website, do you get half a royalty? What if I only watched 3 minutes, while the browser was in the background and I was also chatting and texting and doing whatever it is the kids do nowadays?

And I hate to break this to you, but none of us are making any money out here. I know, you heard the words “YouTube” and “Facebook” and “billions” in the same sentence a lot, but those are company valuations (and crazy ones at that). Even they haven’t figured out how to monetize the content yet.

(And, yes, that was the first time I’ve used the phrase “monetize the content” here. I feel as bad about it as you do.)

If you keep kvetching about people seeing your work online without you getting your cut, you’re going to stop sounding like writers who need our support, and start sounding like the RIAA which has made a business out of fighting new technology tooth and nail. And, personally, that’s where my support ends.

All us dorks making “user generated content” are, or at least should be, on your side. We’re all writers. Just don’t paint this brave new medium with the same brush as the old ones. They’re not the same. If you hang your case on treating the new like the old, you’re going to lose.

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Hi, I’m Derek. I used to make websites. Now I grow flowers and know things. I’m mostly harmless. More.