WGA strike a digital dilemma

Robert Reich

TEXT OF COMMENTARY

Scott Jagow: Today is day three of the Hollywood writer's strike. Several TV shows have already stopped production because they've run out of scripts.
In fact, commentator Robert Reich was supposed to appear on the Daily Show last night,
but the show has gone into reruns. Reich says the Hollywood walkout is a sign of the times.


Robert Reich: Now, this may look like the kind of strike that used to cripple American industry years ago, when big labor was really big. But look more closely and you'll find an issue more closely related to Chinese pirating of American movies and CDs than to a traditional labor-management brawl.

You see, entertainment is coming to be a larger and larger part of what skilled and creative Americans do for a living. Watch the credits at the end of movies and try counting the names. Add in all the people involved in producing musical recordings, animated computer games, books, magazines, advertising. And the ever expanding numbers doing all this and more on the Internet -- through streaming media, webisodes, downloads.

Entertainment is also becoming an ever-larger portion of America's exports. Depending on how broadly you define it, about 12 to 15 percent of what we sell to the rest of the world.

In short, entertainment is among our most valuable properties. But it's intangible, weightless. Easily expressed in digits, it can be sent anywhere around the world in seconds. And the cost of reproducing it is close to zero.

So who's entitled to the money that comes from the sale of creative, digitized products? That's what we're trying to negotiate with the Chinese, and developing nations around the world.

That's also what the writers for movies and television are trying to negotiate. They want more of the revenues from sales of DVDs, ads on the Internet and other forms their creations now take -- forms they couldn't possibly have anticipated years ago, when their contracts were last negotiated.

Whether the clash is with the writers' union or the Chinese, the underlying issue is the most basic of capitalism: Who owns what? And in this new digital age, the answer has to be negotiated anew.

Jagow: Robert Reich's latest book is called "Supercapitalism." He was labor secretary under President Clinton.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...