WGGB’s Vision: Securing the Future for UK Writers in a Changing Industry

by | Jun 11, 2024

In a strategic move preceding the UK’s upcoming general election, the Writers Guild of Great Britain (WGGB) has presented a comprehensive manifesto designed to safeguard and advocate for writers nationwide. The five-page document, titled “WGGB Manifesto: Putting Writers at the Heart of the Story,” delineates the union’s recommendations to the incoming government, urging it to confront critical issues impacting writers today.

The WGGB represents a diverse array of professionals, encompassing film, television, theater, audio, books, poetry, comedy, animation, and videogames. Ellie Peers, the union’s general secretary, underscores the indispensable role writers play in the creative ecosystem. “Our members conjure the characters, worlds, and stories that delight audiences, whether on the page, stage, screen, or across our airwaves,” Peers asserts. “Writing is a highly skilled profession, and every production begins with a writer—without them, there would be no feature films, TV shows, audio dramas, plays, books, poems, or videogames.”

This manifesto emerges at a pivotal moment, as writers continue to grapple with the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. A WGGB survey revealed that 74 percent of playwrights experienced income loss due to the shutdowns, with 50 percent expressing concerns about future employment. The pandemic has exacerbated longstanding issues within the creative industry, intensifying the manifesto’s call for fair pay and treatment.

Compounding these challenges is the proliferation of artificial intelligence (AI). A WGGB survey found that 65 percent of writers believe increased AI use will reduce their income, while 61 percent worry about AI replacing jobs in their field. The manifesto advocates for stringent copyright protections and the establishment of a regulatory body to oversee AI’s expansion. “Recent developments in AI pose a significant threat to writers’ work and earnings,” the manifesto cautions, emphasizing the necessity for licensing agreements and transparent logs of information used to train AI tools.

Despite these hurdles, the WGGB highlights the economic value of writers to the UK’s creative industries, which contribute over £124 billion to the economy. Yet, writers often face underpayment and insufficient protection. The manifesto points to the closure of theaters, the decline of independent films, and the reduction in original works commissioned by public service broadcasters. These trends jeopardize the sustainability of the sector and the livelihoods of writers.

The manifesto is structured around four key pillars: fair pay, fair treatment, a sustainable sector, and copyright and AI protections. Under fair pay, WGGB calls for greater restrictions on unpaid work and low pay, with penalties for non-compliance. It demands an end to exploitative “in-perpetuity buy-out” clauses and advocates for fair remuneration for creators. The manifesto also seeks tax and benefit reforms to accommodate the fluctuating earnings of freelance writers and measures to deter late payments. Addressing these financial disparities aims to create a more equitable and stable environment for writers, ensuring they receive the compensation they deserve for their contributions.

Fair treatment is another cornerstone of the manifesto. It advocates for increased accountability and transparency from funding bodies and venues, improved commissioning processes, and mandatory equalities monitoring. WGGB also demands better protections against discrimination, bullying, and harassment and calls for the introduction of a freelance commissioner for creative workers. These measures are designed to foster a more inclusive and respectful industry, where all writers can thrive without fear of mistreatment or bias.

The manifesto also emphasizes the necessity for a sustainable sector. It stresses the need for direct funding routes for freelance writers and increased financial support for the creative industries. It calls for a strengthened “cultural test” to recognize UK-based writers and measures to ensure the industry’s transition to more climate-friendly practices. WGGB highlights the importance of creative education and skills training programs to ensure accessible routes to the industry for all. By investing in the future of writing, the manifesto aims to build a resilient and dynamic sector capable of weathering any storm.

On the topic of copyright and AI protections, the manifesto insists on maintaining and strengthening existing copyright protections. It advocates for a new regulatory body to monitor AI expansion and the requirement of licensing agreements for AI use of writers’ work. WGGB stresses the importance of transparency in AI tools’ training data and the right to human review in AI decision-making processes. As AI technology continues to evolve, these protections will be crucial in safeguarding the intellectual property and livelihoods of writers.

The WGGB’s manifesto is a thorough response to the multifaceted challenges faced by writers today. By addressing issues of fair pay, treatment, sustainability, and the impact of AI, the union is not only advocating for the immediate needs of its members but also for the long-term health of the UK’s creative industries.

The economic contribution of writers is substantial, yet the industry continues to grapple with systemic issues that undermine their value. The pandemic has further highlighted these vulnerabilities, making the WGGB’s call for action both timely and necessary. The rise of AI presents both opportunities and threats; while AI can enhance creative processes, it also poses significant risks to writers’ livelihoods and intellectual property. The manifesto’s focus on robust regulatory measures is a crucial step in protecting writers from the potential negative impacts of AI.

Looking ahead, the WGGB’s manifesto has the potential to shape the policies of the incoming government, provided it gains the necessary political traction. The emphasis on fair pay and treatment could lead to legislative changes that ensure better working conditions and remuneration for writers. The sustainability of the sector will depend on increased funding and support for creative education and training programs. As the industry transitions to more climate-friendly practices, there will be opportunities to innovate and create new pathways for writers. The regulation of AI will be a key area to watch, with effective monitoring and licensing agreements essential to ensure that writers’ work is protected and fairly compensated. The establishment of a regulatory body could set a precedent for other creative industries grappling with the impact of AI. In essence, the WGGB’s manifesto is a critical call to action that highlights the urgent need for support and protection for UK writers. Its recommendations, if implemented, could lead to significant positive changes in the creative industries, ensuring a sustainable and equitable future for writers. As the landscape of the creative sector continues to evolve, the WGGB’s advocacy stands as a beacon of hope for writers seeking fair treatment and recognition in an ever-changing world.