Rename It The 'Fear Validation Program'

Individual writers this week are starting to receive scary threatening letters from the studios and networks warning about the WGA’s “script validation program” just as the Writer’s Guild Of America responds to the AMPTP on the matter. (As I’ve reported previously, the controversy boils down to this: the guild wants members to submit copies of any half-finished scripts etc to headquarters. The producers don’t.) The letters were sent to the writers via their agencies. Here’s what one dated yesterday from Buena Vista Motion Picture Group warns about the WGA’s strike rules:

“There is one rule, Rule #8, which we must address directly with you, just as we have already addressed this directly with the WGA. Strike Rule 8 — the so-called “Script Validation Program” purportedly instructs writers to supply the WGA with copies of literary material already written and delivered to the Company and all writing in progress for the Company, as well as any spec or sample scripts submitted. As we have already informed the WGA, this written material, in any and all of its forms, is the sole property of the Company, who owns all such material in its entirety.  As such, writers are prohibited from giving, sharing, or otherwise depositing such material with the WGA.

Compliance by you with Strike Rule 8 would put you in breach of your contract with the Company and subject you, the writer, and the WGA to a number of possible legal actions, including breach of contract, tortious interference of a contractual obligation, and violation of trade secrets to name a few… We regret being put in a position of having to remind you of your legal obligations in this manner but, unfortunately, this seemed to be the best way to avoid confusion and potential disputes between us.”

On October 24th but not made public until this week, Anthony R. Segall of Rothner, Segall & Greenstone responded on behalf of the WGA to the October 19th cease-and-desist missive concerning the “Script Validation Program” from William L. Cole of Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp on behalf of the AMPTP:

“The script validation program, as described in the 2007 WGA Strike Rules, does not coerce employees or violate the Companies’ contractual or statutory rights. The program is a lawful internal union rule designed to advance legitimate Guild interests, including writers’ collective right to withhold their services in the event of a strike.

Initially, I note that the script validation program is not new. The rule is identical in substance to one implemented and in effect during the 1988 WGA strike — to my knowledge, without objection or legal challenge by the Companies. In the years since then, the Guild has continued to receive copies of literary material for a wife variety of purposes, such as contract enforcement and the protection of writers’ intellectual property rights. The Companies have never objected to this practice, though in appropriate circumstances we have made accomodations to address the Companies’ legitimate confidentiality concerns.

Your demands … are unlawful and discriminatory, and seem intended specifically to deter writers from exercising their right to strike. Such demands themselves, and certainly any actions to enforce such demands, interfere with, restrain and coerce employees in the exercise of their rights under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act. Actions to enforce these demands may also violate the duty to bargain in good faith, as unilateral changes in work rules and contract terms in retaliation for protected conduct.

… Please be advised that the WGA will immediately respond to any attempt by the AMPTP or the Companies it represents to recharacterize lawful strike activity as a breach of contract or violation of state or federal law.”

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