Our motion to TUC Congress on Streaming and fair pay for writers was today passed at the high-profile event in the trade union calendar, which this year took place in Liverpool.
It was moved by WGGB President Sandi Toksvig OBE, seconded by our sister union Equity, and supported by NUJ and Prospect. It called for writers to receive fair pay for the work they do for streaming companies, such as Netflix, Amazon, Disney and Apple TV and audio services such as Audible.
Speaking to Congress, Sandi Toksvig said that “one of the great cons of our time is the notion that creating culture… is somehow a privilege, when actually it’s work”.
She said the motion – based on the idea that “people receive fair pay for the work they do” – should not be necessary. “It should be a given, but it isn’t.”
She spoke about how writers who create the stories which appear on streaming platforms are not being properly remunerated for their work and regularly engaged on ‘buy out’ agreements requiring them to sign away all intellectual property and copyright.
This differs from the collectively bargained agreements which WGGB has in TV, film, audio and theatre, which all contain royalty payments.
The increased use of non-collectively bargained buy-out agreements risks writing becoming a profession for only those who can afford it. As a result the writing profession and stories that are told will become less diverse. “Writers are less able to sustain their careers and that is a real problem for writers from traditionally under-represented backgrounds,” she said. “Working class writers, writers of colour, those with disabilities. There is a risk that writing will become … only for those who can afford it.”
Toksvig highlighted that “for every famous screenwriter there are many more just trying to make a living”, adding “trust me, the life of your average jobbing writer is not easy and royalty payments allow writers to stay afloat through tough times.”
“This new model means that over the life of a show writers are paid less overall and don’t share in the success of their work when it does well … If you watch a favourite show over and over on a streaming service, chances are the writer is getting nothing.”
She called out the streaming giants, taking Netflix as just one example. The platform has 238 million global subscribers, generates $1.5bn in profit a year and in 2022 Co-CEOs Reed Hastings and Ted Sarandos received over $50 million each in cash and stocks, up 25% and 31.5% from 2021 respectively.
“We’re not asking for something these companies can’t afford,” she said.
She ended by calling on Congress to send solidarity to the Writers Guild of America and Sag-Aftra in their ongoing strikes, saying that “like us, they want the streaming platforms to share viewership details and pay royalties, to treat writers and actors well. It’s in all our interests to put a stop to these unfair practices … if you’ve ever watched TV, or movies or listened to podcasts, you are all in this together.”
The WGGB motion in full: Streaming and fair pay for writers
Congress recognises the global success of subscription video on demand (SVOD) providers such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+, Apple TV+ and subscription audio on demand providers such as Audible. These companies have hundreds of millions of subscribers globally, generating tens of billions of pounds.
However, the writers who create the stories which appear on these platforms are not being adequately remunerated for their work.
SVOD providers regularly engage writers on ‘buy-out’ agreements requiring them to sign away all intellectual property and copyright to their work. Meaning they do not receive any additional remuneration, even if their shows become international hits, and they cannot use their work to create theatre shows, books or audio content based on their creations. This differs from the long-standing collectively bargained agreements the WGGB has in TV, film, audio and theatre, which all contain royalty payments.
Many writers rely on royalty payments to keep afloat when they are not working. The increased use of non-collectively bargained buy-out agreements risks writing becoming a profession for only those who can afford it. As a result, the writing profession, and stories that are told will become less diverse
Congress recognises the valuable contribution writers make to the UK economy and cultural and creative sector.
Congress agrees to support the WGGB’s collective bargaining efforts, campaign for fairer pay for writers working for streaming providers and end buy-out agreements.
Congress also notes the recent Writers Guild of America strike against streamers, studios and producers, and sends our solidarity to these workers.