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Writers Ready for Major Strike

5 Nov, 2007 By: Erik Gruenwedel

Writers are digging in their heels over a piece of the DVD and digital-delivery pie.

Writers Guild of America leaders unanimously supported striking after marathon weekend negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers failed to resolve recurring DVD-compensation issues.

The strike is expected to shut down or delay productions of primetime television programming, talk shows and related events.

AMPTP president Nick Counter said producers attempted to meet WGA demands on Internet streaming and jurisdiction in new media but were rebuffed.

He seemed particularly miffed the WGA began strikes in New York while negotiations continued in Los Angeles.

“It is unfortunate they chose to take this irresponsible action,” Counter said in a statement.

The WGA responded that despite withdrawing its DVD proposal, the AMPTP refused new jurisdiction on new media and insisted that Web downloads be compensated at the current DVD rate.

Producers want to pay writers residual payments for Web-based work established upon existing DVD rates, which the WGA has long considered antiquated.

Contract talks with a federal mediator broke down just hours before the Oct. 31 deadline, indicating a possible work stoppage.

For more than 20 years, WGA members writing for VHS and DVD product received 1.5% of 20% of the producers' wholesale price for each unit sold. The guild would like to up that to 1.2% of 100% of wholesale, according to the WGA.

“The rate the guild is looking for is currently in existence [for pay TV], but the producers don't want to apply it,” said WGA spokesperson Gregg Mitchell.

AMPTP president Nick Counter has said the WGA demands for increased DVD residuals have impeded attempts to resolve other labor issues.

He said any new agreement regarding residuals for DVD, including electronic sellthrough, would have to be paid under the existing home video formula.

The AMPTP claims the home video residual formula is “falsely maligned” and does not constitute a discounted formula.

The organization claims that a writer earns an additional $64,800 in residual income based on a standard 1 million-unit sale of a DVD. It says incremental compensation increases to $324,000 on sales of 5 million units and $648,000 on sales of 10 million units.

“We cannot move further as long as that issue remains on the table,” Counter said. “In short, the DVD issue is a complete roadblock to any further progress.”

In response, the WGA said producers failed to negotiate further unless they accepted “the hated DVD formula” and extended it to digital media, including downloads.

“Every issue that matters to writers, including Internet reuse, writing for new media, DVDs and jurisdiction, has been ignored,” the WGA said in a statement. “This is completely unacceptable.”

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