Monday, April 26, 2010

Agreements piracy

Following the announcement that the Writers' Guild has concluded a landmark agreement with ITV, here's a guest post from Gail Renard, chair of the Guild's TV Committee.

Hoorah to the Guild for having secured a great new ITV agreement on behalf of writers. Please note I said writers and not Guild members. Every working day non-members (and you know who you are) use the WGGB agreements in almost every deal they make especially in television (or leave themselves woefully unprotected if they don’t).

All of us scream when our work is pirated on-line or DVDs, etc, on a daily basis. None of us condone stealing. But isn’t it the same if you’re using WGGB agreements and you’re not a member in good standing?

Guild agreements aren’t gifts from the writer gods. Guild members pay annual subscriptions so our small but valiant staff can be eternally vigilant, and negotiate and police all these deals on behalf of our members. Added to that, dozens of members, working writers all, donate their valuable time to sit on our Executive Council and committees; to negotiate alongside our staff for the best minimum term agreements in all media. Using our agreements without being a member of the Guild is just another form of piracy.

A standard excuse for not joining the Guild is “but I’m only just starting out.” But that’s just when you need professional protection, guidance and contractual advice. The Guild cares when no one else does and goes on caring throughout your entire career.

Another top excuse is, 'But I have an agent!' The answer is you need both. An agent bases most of the negotiations they do on WGGB contracts. Without a minimum terms agreements in place, there’d be no safety nets for writers’ rights, terms or conditions; and your agent would start negotiating from scratch. Zero. Zilch. How generous would a production company be if there weren’t recognised benchmarks in place and they had to offer you fees from the goodness of their hearts? And can I add that the Guild asks for subs just over one per cent of your writing income, whereas most agents take 10% or even 15%?

It’s also worth remembering that agents or agents’ associations cannot solely negotiate a collective agreement on behalf of writers. Only a writers’ organisation such as the Guild can. And without a WGGB or Writers Guild of America approved contract, you also won’t be eligible for many major American and British awards.

An industry without the safeguard of the Guild and its agreements would be bedlam, and writers would cease to be able to earn a living. No Writers’ Guild can run on air. The WGGB keeps afloat by members’ subscriptions and we welcome yours. We need you. A pirate by any other name...


  1. Gail...

    I understand and agree with your feelings here and I would be a member again if funds would permit.

    Having said that, because I am short of funds means I am not in a viable position to benefit from the Guilds' very good news.

    In the meantime until funds permit, may I leave you with this thought?

    A pensioner exempt from council tax would still be entitled to regular refuse collections, public libraries and essential services.

    I am in total agreement with what you say, but if there are people who cannot afford membership YET, then the WGGB will not lose further to what they would never be given.

    I at the moment admit that I always like a good P & O holiday... Parks and open spaces.

    Regards and best wishes to you a great writer

    Charlie Burrows
    (Toenails cut while you wait).

  2. Thanks for your kind words, Charlie, but the question might soon be how long can all those essential services.. plus the Guild... keep going without the necessary income?

    Meanwhile here's to a happier time when you can rejoin the Guild and we can all enjoy your work!

  3. My writing income has been just under £1000 per year for the last two years. (Comedy sketch writing doesn't pay that well...)

    Unless I've misunderstood, the Guild fees are £100 (Candidate Membership) or £180 (Full Membership), both significantly more than one per cent of my writing earnings.

    I joined WGGB last year at the special £50 rate. But I can't afford to extend my subscription this year at the full rate, so won't be renewing, sadly. Maybe I'll come back to you when I've had a TV sitcom commissioned.

  4. I totally understand why people don't pay dues when the money's tight, but if you can beg, steal or borrow the cash, I'd honestly say you can't afford to not be a member.
    I was in a situation where I was owed a lot of money for work going back over a year. I was told by the lovely client that they were going to pay me half of what I was owed, and if I whinged about it, I might get nothing.
    So I didn't whinge, I just said "fine, you can discuss it with the Writers Guild," and whaddayaknow! - a few days later the money was in my account.
    As for feeling that you don't need membership because you have an agent; in my experience that's no safeguard.
    An agent sometimes has to play politics and won't always go into battle against a major client with whom they might have longer-term and far more lucrative interests; certainly not on behalf of a writer like myself who's pretty far down the food chain.
    I know membership money is a lot when you're skint, but it's pocket change if it's the only thing between you and getting ripped off for serious money that you've worked hard for.

  5. Hear, hear, Mac. I have the greatest agent in the world but, over my career, it's twice been impossible to get the money I was owed (even though the programmes aired.) The Guild waded in; on one occasion, starting legal proceedings. On both occasions, they got my money ASAP.

    The Guild's sole function is to be 100% behind writers and they can go where angels fear to tread. That's why I do so much work for the Guild. I wouldn't like me... or my fellow writers... to be without it.

  6. Hear, hear, Mac. I have the greatest agent in the world, but twice over my career it's been impossible to get the money I was owed (even though the programmes aired.) The Guild waded in; on one occasion, starting legal proceedings. Both times, the Guild got my money ASAP.

    The Guild's sole function is to be 100% behind writers and they can go where angels fear to tread. I hate to think what would happen to writers if we didn't have it.


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