Bye, Bye T.V. and Movies, Hello Strike

For those who don’t know, the Writer’s Guild of America (WGA) is poised to go on strike. The deadline was midnight on Halloween. Reality T.V. shows will again overrun the airwaves and films that might have gone straight to video will have a better chance to be in a theater. The labor law here may become interesting. The WGA has indicated that any member must “submit to the WGA all unproduced material that’s been written for struck companies, plus the status of each project.”  The full strike rules are here. The studios are taking the position that the writer contracts negate the labor contracts. As Variety reports Universal’s letter states:

“Pursuant to the agreement between you and Universal, you may not provide or discuss with the WGA any information concerning scripts owned by Universal, including the status of such scripts, the identity of the author thereof, whether or not a rewrite or other writing services are being performed and, if so, by whom, nor supply copies of any such scripts (including spec or sample scripts) to the WGA,” Universal’s letter read.
“The supplying of such information would be considered an unauthorized disclosure of Universal’s confidential information, and the supplying of scripts would be considered a misappropriation of corporate property,” the letter continued.

So there it is. I am not sure how labor law interacts with this position. Nonetheless, the language is familiar. The studios claim that writing is property. They own the property and that allows them to control everything related to it. In addition, the confidential information aspect of the claim gives studios another way to claim that the strike interferes with a valuable asset. As the article notes several possible claims could be brought including, “inducement of breach of contract, interference with prospective economic advantage, misappropriation, conversion and unfair competition.” The WGA argues that the rules are part of enforcing its labor rights and so that it can have information to determine whether “strike-breaking or scab writing” claims have merit. In fact similar rules were in place in 1988 as part of a previous strike.

If labor lawyers have perspectives on this issue, I would love to know what they are. It seems to me that the public policy behind labor law would allow the guild to ask it members to provide this information. Still given the recent practice of the entertainment industry when it perceives something to be property, this strike could turn into another round in the property rights fights.

Cross-posted at Concurring Opinions.