Studios oppose WGA strike rules

Universal, New Line take issue with regulations

Universal and New Line are joining the chorus of Hollywood players crying foul over the WGA’s strike rules.

In letters mailed late last week to writers working on projects for the studios, U and New Line take issue with the Writers Guild’s script validation regulations, which require scribes to submit to the WGA all unproduced material that’s been written for struck companies, plus the status of each project.

U’s letter warned writers that they’ll be in breach of their contracts if they comply with the WGA requirements. New Line has essentially said the same. Warner Bros., 20th Century Fox, Paramount and DreamWorks are considering sending out similar notices to scribes they have under contract.

The WGA’s strike rules go into effect as soon as the guild strikes — which could be as early as Thursday. Negotiations are set to resume today at the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers offices in Encino.

The DGA, IATSE and the AMPTP have also warned the WGA about conflicts with the strike rules since they were issued three weeks ago. Universal began notifying writers via mail about its position within the past week.

“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.

New Line was more emphatic, declaring that following the WGA strike rule would “be a breach of your writing agreement.”

The Universal and New Line missives come after the AMPTP told the WGA that its strike rules on script validation are illegal. The AMPTP sent a cease-and-desist letter to the WGA on Oct. 19 in which it asserted that the guild’s script validation program violates studios’ property rights since the companies are typically the owners of the literary material.

The AMPTP letter warns that the WGA’s actions could give rise to a number of potential legal claims, including inducement of breach of contract, interference with prospective economic advantage, misappropriation, conversion and unfair competition. The type of claims suggests that the guild itself, as well as individual guild members, could be subject to litigation.

But WGA West general counsel Anthony Segall has denied the strike rule violates company 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,” he asserted in a response to the AMPTP’s lawyers.

Segall noted that the WGA used a similar rule during the 1988 strike without objection from the companies. And he said that the AMPTP’s demand to stop the program is aimed specifically at deterring writers from exercising their right to strike.

“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,” Segall added.

The WGA’s rules require guild members to submit literary material already completed and delivered to a company before the strike; writing in progress for a company subject to the strike; and any spec or sample script if it was submitted before the strike.

“The filing of these copies will allow the guild to determine the exact status of the material at the beginning of the strike and may protect you in the event allegations of strike-breaking or scab writing are made against you or another writer,” the WGA explains as part of the rule.

The DGA has taken issue with the WGA’s ban on a variety of “writing services” for hyphenates (such as writer-directors and writer-producers) — including cutting for time; bridging material; changes in stage directions; and assignment of lines to other characters caused by cast changes.

Thomas Short, president of the Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, is irked over the guild’s plan to bar WGA members from writing animated features — since much of that sector is covered by IATSE.

Even before the strike rules were issued, studios had put a hiring squeeze on writers — such as canceling verbal commitments for portions of the screenwriting process if those fell within the period that a strike could take place (Daily Variety, Oct. 10).