After five months of strike action, the Writers' Guild of America has reached a deal with TV producers and major streaming companies in the US. The WGA described the deal as “exceptional – with meaningful gains and protections for writers in every sector of the membership”.
Meanwhile, SAG-AFTRA, who are representing the actors, remains on strike, which means productions will not resume immediately but there must be hope of a similar deal.
MU members who compose music for US productions may have been impacted, with work cancelled or postponed, and we know this is the case for some planned recording sessions.
However, the impact of the US strike will reach far beyond the immediate impact on work opportunities for UK musicians and could set a precedent for the big streaming companies to offer better terms.
So what does the WGA agreement deliver for writers in the States?
Most of the minimum rates in the agreement will increase by 5% on ratification of the contract, 4% in 2024 and 3.5% in 2025.
More importantly, however, it delivers better residual payments on streamed films and programmes and royalties that are linked to popularity:
- Foreign streaming residuals will now be based on the streaming service’s number of foreign subscribers for services available globally, amounting to a 76% increase (including a 2.5% base increase) to the foreign residual for the services with the largest global subscriber bases over 3 years.
- Viewership-based streaming bonus for series and films that are viewed by 20% or more of the service’s domestic subscribers in the first 90 days of release, or in the first 90 days in any subsequent exhibition year, get a bonus equal to 50% of the fixed domestic and foreign residual, with views calculated as hours streamed domestically of the season or film divided by runtime.
- Streaming Data Transparency. The Companies agree to provide the WGA, subject to a confidentiality agreement, the total number of hours streamed, both domestically and internationally, of self-produced high budget streaming programs (e.g., a Netflix original series). The WGA may share information with the membership in aggregated form.
Building the threat of Artificial Intelligence into negotiations
The WGA also addresses the threat of Artificial Intelligence, which is bound to have international ramifications and is a very exciting precedent. The principles agreed are that:
- AI can’t write or rewrite literary material;
- A writer can choose to use AI when performing writing services, if the company consents and provided that the writer follows applicable company policies, but the company can’t require the writer to use AI software (e.g., ChatGPT) when performing writing services;
- The Company must disclose to the writer if any materials given to the writer have been generated by AI or incorporate AI-generated material;
- The WGA reserves the right to assert that exploitation of writers’ material to train AI is prohibited.
This demonstrates what can be achieved to protect writers and performers from the threats of AI through collective bargaining. The MU has been lobbying the Government, but this is something we will also build into our negotiations, particularly when it comes to recording and broadcasting.
The above are just the headlines of the WGA deal, but we hope this is a step towards creators and performers being paid and treated more fairly in relation to both TV and film streaming services and music streaming.