Solutions for an Unsettling Time

Spring 2008


At the date of this writing, issues are still being decided within our community that I am confident will be resolved by the time you receive this publication. It has been a difficult time for many of you and I am starting to receive calls from colleagues whose final episodes are on the horizon in episodic television and I know there are many others who have been impacted by the unsettling state of affairs for some time. I have heard nervousness from neighbors about their friends in industry related-areas who complain that the strike has compromised their businesses and question the needs of a few that may affect the security of many. This is an argument that we all have heard during the past few months. However sympathetic we may be to their plight, the demand that creators be compensated in an equitable fashion is a noble quest and a bond that must be forged by all of us in the creative community.

I commend our colleagues in the DGA for putting in place a deal that hopefully can lead to our industry getting back to work. At the same time, the writers have been waging a valiant fight under the capable leadership of our friend, Patic Verrone, president of the Writer’s Guild of America, West. We trust that any agreement brokered with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers will reflect the hardships that both sides, along with our entire industry have suffered over the past several months. It is also my hope, that if it hasn’t happened by this date, that their talks have a timely resolution that will yield significant gains in the areas that have been on the table since the onset of these negotiations. There is one thing for certain: whatever parameters are put into place in our sister guilds, particularly as they affect the internet, will have a decided impact on how our deals are structured as we move into a digital future of unpredictable and unseen dimension.

The understanding of the value of a copyright and the importance of preserving it is not an insignificant by-product of this current dilemma. The ease by which our work can not only be copied and shared, but also pirated is something that no one would have predicted, even a few years ago. The irony is that the larger issue should not be one that pits the studios against the creative guilds. The feuding parties have a much greater common goal to preserve their shared creation against global theft and therefore should be unified, creating their own alliance in mutual solidarity.

Within our own quarters, and not unrelated to the uncertain times of our industry in general, the act of determining how we are paid and who will be responsible for seeing that we are compensated fairly, is, to a great degree, unresolved at this moment. Attorney, and SCL honorary lifetime member, Jay Cooper and ASCAP board member Dean Kay* made it very clear at an SCL seminar last summer that it is important that we stay abreast of legislation that is in front of Congress. Our opponents are vigilant in stating their position. The more contact we can have with the Congress, particularly those on the Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property, and make them aware of our concern with the advances in technology and how they are impacting our livelihood, the better chance we have in seeing legislation sympathetic to our interests being enacted.

My personal hope is that our interests will fall under the domain of the performing rights societies. After nearly thirty years of working in the industry, I can say that the vision and guidance that these organizations have exemplified is unparalleled. As a young writer, I had no sense of the magnitude of the Buffalo Broadcasting vs. ASCAP decision in 1980-82, which reaffirmed the constitutionality of the blanket license on local television. At the time, it seemed to me to be another court battle, which applied to some limited area of our profession, removed from my day-to-day well being. Truth be told, the ruling in our favor, was not only significant to my well being, the blanket license preserved therein ended up providing the primary source of income from shows of mine such as Home Improvement and Roseanne, whose life after prime time has not been insignificant. Whatever challenges lay ahead, I am confident that ASCAP, BMI and SESAC will look for ways to protect our interests. They are also the leaders in intellectual property education at an early age. Programs that teach children the value of copyright have already been employed in out-reach education in classrooms throughout the country. ASCAP’s Donnie the Downloader program has been designed to educate American middle school students about music piracy and the real costs of downloading music illegally.

Another way that we can be proactive as the environment changes is to work with our agents and attorneys to determine if any language advantageous to preserving our rights can be inserted into the boiler- plate contracts that all of us have signed throughout our careers. Quite simply put, if our contracts don’t say we’re getting paid for it, we’re not. Perhaps as downloading, streaming, mobisodes, etc. are being dealt with industry wide, we as composers and songwriters can take advantage of this period to incorporate some changes of our own. In the beginning, it may be on a case-by-case basis, but eventually these types of efforts could lead to strides beneficial to our interests on a grander scale. There is no doubt that this will be an uphill battle, as even the most successful among our ranks are making little ground in some of these areas.

Our past-president, Jim di Pasquale, among others in the SCL, was instrumental in mounting a quest for recognition in front of the National Labor Relations Board in 1984. If successful, it would have helped in recapturing some of the ground lost during a strike and lengthy and disruptive lawsuit during the seventies. Although we were denied recognition at that time, another alternative to dealing with some of the challenges we have today may be to re-look at the collective bargaining issue that eluded us back then. The current labor negotiations will ultimately play a factor in the potential success of such a campaign, but members within our organization have regularly monitored the feasibility of unionization and will continue to do so, now and in the future.

Troubling as these times may be, I look optimistically towards a future that will provide even greater outlets for our music and song. I believe that although this is an age of technology that allows easier access to our work, the time is also fertile to present a platform that re-affirms that without our creative output, these devices and their facile use would be meaningless pieces of hardware. This is a message that needs to be presented, articulated and argued and it is our responsibility to play a part in the educational process; making sure that message is delivered loud and clear.

*Dean Kay offers an informative daily service called The Dean’s List. He provides links to articles from all over the world that pertain to copyright, new technology and music. He will be happy to add you to his morning reviews. Just go to and follow the website to the Dean’s List to be added to his e-mail updates. I would also strongly suggest downloading the seminar Where’s My Royalty? Past-President, Ray Colcord assembled experts, Christopher Amenita, Ted Cohen, Jay Cooper, Jeffrey Graubart, and Dean Kay to talk on many of the matters pertinent to our survival. Go to the SCL Store, Downloads-Members Only area on page 4 items 8029A&B.


Published in THE SCORE quarterly newsletter [Vol. XXIII, Number One, Spring 2008]