In the next few days the BBC will launch an unprecedented campaign to persuade writers to sign up to the digital future. Supported by WGGB, the BBC will send letters to nearly 11,000 writers, writers’ successors, and writers’ estates – asking them to sign up to modern contractual terms.
The operation goes right back to the origins of the BBC in the 1920s and 1930s. From then right up to 2002, when radical new contracts were introduced, people who wrote for BBC drama and comedy did so under a confusing variety of terms, and for much of that period, all rights expired after 20 years.
That was when broadcasting was thought to be ephemeral, and tapes of classic programmes were routinely and unthinkingly wiped – to be re-used for sometimes much less worthy material.
Most old programmes never get repeated on network channels, but that doesn’t mean no one wants to watch them. Digital technology, such as the iPlayer and the forthcoming BBC Store, will make that material available once again. In some cases it will be free to view, as a public service, and in others it will be available to buy – the 21st-century version of the VHS tape or the DVD.
In order to make this switch, the BBC needs to be comfortable that it has the rights to draw material from its archives and make it available. After years of negotiation, WGGB has agreed with the BBC that there should be a major exercise to gather these rights together – and in return, the BBC has agreed to new ways of paying writers – or their successors or estates. Basically, this means that writers will be rewarded in the same way as if they had written their scripts only a year or so ago.
If you have ever written a drama or comedy script for the BBC, you should soon receive a letter and a new contract for you to sign. In almost every case, WGGB recommends that you should agree – that way your old (and sometimes long-lost) work can be revived and made available online. It is also worth remembering that you can withhold some of your works from the system if you wish, and that if you sign up you can later change your mind.
IMPORTANT: In a small number of cases, where there have been many repeats on network television, it will be smarter not to sign the new terms. But mostly, these new contracts will put old material back into availability, and generate some income for the writer as well.
For more information please visit this website: www.bbc.co.uk/writerslicence
If you have any doubts or questions, please contact the WGGB Head Office or your agent before you sign.