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  • Katelyn Green

The Shared Struggles of Songwriters and the On-Strike Screenplay Writers in America

Screenplay writers in America have been on strike for months, advocating for reform that the music industry has been in need of for decades.

On the second of May 2023, the Writers Guild of America went on strike for the first time in over fifteen years. The labor union negotiated with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers with the intention of finding solutions to the worsening working conditions for screenplay writers, including fair pay, financial protections, regulated use of artificial intelligence in script writing, and more staff in writer rooms. Following the rejection of these proposals, the thousands of members of the guild went on strike.

The strike has now lasted several months. Many series that were still in production when the strike began have been shut down. Late-night shows, such as Saturday Night Live, were the first to be affected—the newest SNL episode aired on April 15th, and the rest of the forty-eighth season was canceled. All series with finalized scripts have been able to finish their seasons during the strike, but new seasons or ones still in the process of being written will likely have delayed premieres, depending on how long the strike continues for.

The strike has highlighted the power of unions against major corporations, and members of the workforce in other industries have been showing support for the WGA. One group in particular has been keeping an especially close eye on these recent events–songwriters.

Justin Tranter, who has written for several popular artists, including Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez, admitted to Rolling Stone that he was both inspired by and jealous of the WGA’s fight for their dues. Songwriters are largely responsible for the creation of today’s hits in music, but are rarely recognized for their contributions the same way that singers and other performing musicians are. Songwriters have been enduring poor treatment by music publishers for decades and, recently, seeking ways to encourage reform.

The role of writers in the music industry is similar to that of their counterparts in film; the media and content that consumers enjoy is not possible without their work. However, publishing companies do not fairly compensate these writers for their hard work. While the typical wage for songwriters in America has been considered unlivable for decades, the situation has worsened with the rise of streaming services, such as Spotify, Apple Music, and Pandora. Artists benefit directly from the sales of their music, but consumers owning music is becoming rarer as streaming becomes more popular. Artists hardly make any profit at all from clicks on streaming platforms; most of the revenue is split between the label and the streaming platform.

These changes in the industry are very similar to the ones that led the WGA to strike: streaming platforms like Netflix and HBO Max have become popular around the world, and watching films and programs on cable or in cinemas has become less common. The revenue earned from streams is being received by the studios and the streaming services, not the writers.

Despite their similar struggles, it is not as easy for songwriters to demand fair treatment by asserting that no music will come out until they receive it. The origins of the Writer’s Guild of America date back to the early days of the film industry, and the union is powerful. The case is not the same for songwriters, who are labeled as independent contractors by the National Labor Relations Board and therefore cannot unionize.

Many songwriters, however, are hoping that the writers’ strike will shine a light on their struggles. Songwriters in America are hoping that the screenplay writers win their ongoing battle and grab the attention of all those responsible for the unfair treatment of workers. Change is long overdue for songwriters, and this historical strike could not only give them a voice of power, but inspire change within their own industry.

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