Rabbi Waxman is right that it is hard to feel sympathy for striking writers who may make millions of dollars a year. However, I disagree that the fact that many other workers in other industries are severely underpaid should prejudice us against the screen writers. Many writers are freelancers or lower level writers who make $50,000 or less a year. And 48 percent of writers, on the West Coast at least, are unemployed (not because of the strike).
Try living on a salary like that, or during the frequent periods of unemployment between assignments. The online royalties that the writers are seeking can make the real difference between making ends meet or not.
This strike is probably not the exception to the rule that it takes two to tango, or not, as the case may be. However, it is not right that the media power houses have been refusing to pay online royalties. At our last meeting of the Conservative Movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, we passed the responsa “Intellectual Property: Can You Steal It if You Can’t Touch It,” by Rabbi Barry Leff that affirmed that using electronic intellectual property (music downloads, computer programs, etc.) without proper permission and payment is equivalent to robbery and is therefore prohibited by Jewish law even where such intellectual properties are not protected under secular law. (As Jews, we hold that the law of the land is the law, which means it is also binding under Jewish law.) While not completely analogous, the use of writers’ works online without some sharing of the income such use generates seems not only contrary to fair play but also to Jewish law in a similar way.