In what could be a prelude to litigation, the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers has told the WGA that its strike rules on script validation are illegal.
The AMPTP has sent a cease-and-desist letter to the WGA, alleging the guild’s “script validation program” violates studios’ property rights since the companies are typically the owners of the literary material.
The WGA wasn’t immediately available for response.
The guild rules — issued two weeks ago — require members to file with the WGA copies of all unproduced material written for struck companies. The rules go into effect as soon as the guild strikes — as early as a week from today.
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.
The WGA’s filing requirement — or “script validation program” — calls on 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.
But the AMPTP’s cease-and-desist letter, issued by its attorneys, Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp, claims that the scripts and other written material — as well as their state of completion — are the property and trade secrets of the companies that acquired or commissioned them and that the WGA has no right to receive or retain them.
The letter, dated last Friday, demands that the WGA cease and desist from promulgating, publicizing and enforcing the script validation program.
The strike rules have already prompted the threat of a lawsuit by Thomas Short, president of the Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, over the guild’s plan to bar WGA members from writing animated features — since much of that sector is covered by IATSE. And AMPTP prexy Nick Counter warned on Oct. 15 that the companies would pursue legal action if the guild interfered with employees living up to contractual obligations.
In another dispute over strike rules, the AMPTP responded Wednesday to the WGA’s contention that hyphenates (such as writer-directors and writer-producers) can’t perform any writing services — defined by the guild as including cutting for time; bridging material; changes in stage directions; assignment of lines to other characters caused by cast changes; changes caused by unforeseen contingencies; minor adjustments before or during principal photography; and instruction, directions or suggestions made to a writer.
But AMPTP, in a posting on its website, said those so-called a to h services are part of a hyphenate showrunner’s duties as a supervisor and can be performed during a strike. The org citied a recent National Labor Relations Board decision holding that hyphenate showrunners are supervisors within the meaning of the National Labor Relations Act and, accordingly, are aligned with management.
“The union cannot and should not attempt to prevent any hyphenate showrunners from performing nonwriting duties,” the AMPTP said.