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Support striking screenwriters on picket lines around the world

Screenwriters in 35 countries around the globe are staging a public show of support for their counterparts involved in the Writers Guild of America strike. Indy Film Library calls on its readers to stand in solidarity with those defending the future of the creative sector.

On June 14th 2023, Screenwriters Everywhere: International Day of Solidarity, a global event scheduled to take place in nations as diverse as Bulgaria and South Korea, includes rallies, social media campaigns and picketing outside local Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) member offices.

Readers close enough to one of the picket lines around the world are encouraged to turn up and show their support. You can find a list of the actions taking place around the world here.

“The members of the IAWG, made up of Guilds from Europe, America, Canada, India, Africa, Korea, New Zealand and Israel, stand in solidarity with our sister Guilds in America,” said IAWG Chair, Thomas McLaughlin, in a statement shared with NPR. “The companies that seek to exploit and diminish writers are global, our response is global, and the victory gained in America will be a victory for screenwriters everywhere.”

Why are screenwriters striking?

Screenwriters in the US have been striking for more than a month, because streaming services such as Disney, Netflix and Amazon do not offer them fair compensation for their work. Media companies earn billions from the work of writers and all other creators of films and series, but they refuse to share those profits with the creators. There is much more than this traditional struggle over wage exploitation at stake, though.

In the 2007 strikes, writers had learned they needed to ask early when anticipating the way technology would be used to undercut their worth – and residuals for streaming were subsequently a key part of their demands. This time, early in the negotiation process, the WGA requested that “AI can’t write or rewrite literary material,” “can’t be used as source material,” and that “MBA-covered material can’t be used to train AI”.

As well as being a way of re-cycling the work of professional writers without pay or credit, the union anticipated that somewhere down the line, AI would be used to create drafts of screenplays and then hire writers at day rates to punch up those scripts. When the demand was rejected out of hand, it became evident that those ideas were happening sooner, rather than later – in planning, if not in practice.

It is therefore clear that the fight of the writers in the US should be regarded as a fight for artists around the world. The ‘promises’ of AI have already been used very publicly as a stick to threaten creative workers with – with ironically labelled ‘think-pieces’ regularly suggesting the technology could finally be used to undercut the pay demands of skilled professionals in every sector.

Beyond the International Day of Solidarity, this means many global writers’ guilds have issued guidelines to their members over the past few weeks, about avoiding jobs that ordinarily would go to WGA members. As US studios run out of fresh content, they will inevitably turn to scab labour as a means of breaking the strike – and if they succeed, it will set a dangerous precedent which in the long-run makes conditions worse for writers and artists, wherever they are based.

In one example, an interview with NPR saw Jennifer Davidson, chair of the Writers Guild of Ireland, state, “We’ve put the message out to our members that if an American producer knocks on your door and says, ‘We need a European writer,’ while it’s incredibly tempting, we are really strongly recommending that our members do not do that because they will get blacklisted by the WGA and it would be viewed very much as breaking the strike.”

Indy Film Library would like to make it clear that it stands unequivocally in support with striking screenwriters – in the US and around the world. Their struggle is one which may well set the tone for how all industries progress with the use of AI. And as well as the immediate human cost that deploying the technology to drive down wages and conditions will have, that foreshadows a bleak future for humanity.

Editor Jack Brindelli said, “AI is already proving it is competent when it comes to cannibalising existing content – but it does not have the ability to challenge conventions or break the mould by generating new ideas. Showing that other ways of life are possible has arguably never been more crucial in our world, and automating the forms of art which once provided outlets to imagine the supposedly impossible may well hasten our society’s very bland march into oblivion.”

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