Albert Kim, a blogger with Huffington Post, raises an intriguing question, sparked by the U.S. writer's guild strike which is, as he points out, about payment for re-use and use in other media; residuals in other words. Why, he asks, don't writers for magazines get residuals?
The premise behind residuals is simple enough. Writers create stories and turn them over to companies who use them to make money. When those companies reuse that creative content to make more money -- think reruns, international sales, home video and such--the writers get cut in on that new revenue. The equation is so obvious and fair-minded that no one, not even the producers, is arguing that there shouldn't be residuals. The fight is over just how much money should be shared.He answers his own question, pointing out that "work for hire" makes writing created while the writer was on staff and working on the clock, is the proprietor's property. And none of this applies to freelancers who sell one-time rights; except, as Kim points out, publishers tend to pressure freelancers to get paid the same, but sign away their subsidiary rights.
But even though work-for-hire is legal -- outlined by the Copyright Act of 1976 -- that doesn't necessarily mean it's fair. In recent days, spurred on by the WGA strike, everyone from labor relations experts to software engineers have begun debating its merits and failings. And keep in mind, in the old days screenwriters were full-time employees of the studios and had no ownership stake in their works. It was only after the scribes unionized and fought back did they win royalty rights.