On writing, striking, stealing, selling, buying, and copying. And profit?

11 Nov

The writer’s strike is making my daily blog reading more interesting since both John August (Go, Big Fish) and Ken Levine (Cheers, Frasier, MASH) have been writing about it almost daily.

The only (almost) compelling case I’ve heard against the writers is that when they are hired to write a script there is nothing in the contract about ownership. In other words, let’s say I am hired to write a movie about a boy and a girl. I do it, turn the script in and get paid for my script, but I don’t own the boy or the girl. If the movie is then made, and the studio then shows the movie online I am owed nothing because I don’t own the movie or anything in it. That’s the argument anyway.

This is one thing (the main thing, I think) that the writers are striking about. If the studios are making money by showing my boy and girl movie online, aren’t I owed residuals? The Writers Guild thinks so. While this is mildly interesting it strikes me as a conflict created entirely by lawyers.

Personally, as someone who is not a member of the writing guild, but may be someday, or in any case considers himself to be a writer, I think there’s a much bigger and more important question to be asking. How can I get people to pay for the media I create?

Traditionally this was easy because the only way to get media (a movie, or a tv show, or a song for example) was to pay for it – to buy it from the studio or record label or television broadcaster. This is no longer true. The internet changes the rules. Media is now free. So, given that anyone can experience the media* I create for free, how can I get them to pay for it?

I have this idea for an internet show. The episodes would be short YouTube videos. Anyone could watch them for free. If it catches on, if it gets a really large audience of regular viewers, there is potential money there since people do sometimes pay for what they like. There is no precedent for how to make this money however. How much of that regular audience is going to pay me for something they’re used to getting (and still can get) for free?
Will they pay me for merchandise (like T-shirts) that relate to the show? Will they pay me for a DVD of the episodes? If I make a DVD of the episodes and one person buys it that person could rip it and make it a free download online. Will anyone else pay me for the DVD?

How can I get people to pay me for media I’m making when they could be/are getting it for free? Should they?

* note that this really only applies to media that can be duplicated. The internet has not made a way to freely re-distribute an art installation with integrated live performances.

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