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

Deven Desai

Deven Desai is an associate professor of law and ethics at the Scheller College of Business, Georgia Institute of Technology. He was also the first, and to date, only Academic Research Counsel at Google, Inc., and a Visiting Fellow at Princeton University’s Center for Information Technology Policy. He is a graduate of U.C. Berkeley and the Yale Law School. Professor Desai’s scholarship examines how business interests, new technology, and economic theories shape privacy and intellectual property law and where those arguments explain productivity or where they fail to capture society’s interest in the free flow of information and development. His work has appeared in leading law reviews and journals including the Georgetown Law Journal, Minnesota Law Review, Notre Dame Law Review, Wisconsin Law Review, and U.C. Davis Law Review.

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5 Responses

  1. Margaret says:

    Who has time to watch TV?

    If American TV writers went on strike, who would notice?

  2. I’m not a labor lawyer, but the answer likely depends on whether the writer is an employee or contractor.

    Copyright laws aside, Cal. Labor Code 2860 says:

    “Everything which an employee acquires by virtue of his employment, except the compensation which is due to him from his employer, belongs to the employer, whether acquired lawfully or unlawfully, or during or after the expiration of the term of his employment.”

    I have no idea whether a collective bargaining agreement can modify that basic rule, but that seems a good place to start.

  3. Deven says:


    Great to hear from you. Interesting idea but how would the status of a project belong to the employer? It may be a trade secret I guess, but I believe that much of this information is not really treated as such. Hollywood shares lists of project status (but maybe with some sort of NDA though I am not sure on that). In addition acquire seems an open-ended term. I wonder whether the law around non-competes in CA would shed light on the topic. Still the Code could play an interesting role in the argument. Thanks.

  4. Deven – glad to see the comment showed up. If the writer is an employee, the statute has been construed to include all employer specific information, including trade secrets and arguably non trade secrets.

    If, of course, status lists are shared as a matter of practice then that would also affect the analysis, but the default rule is that the employer owns the trade secret information generated by employees, and some cases extend it to confidential but not trade secret information.

    Also, the scripts in progress if done by an employee or under a typical film/tv contract will be a work for hire, and owned by whoever commissioned the work. Sending a copy to the WGA seems like a pretty clear case of copyright infringement, though again I have no idea how collective bargaining agreements or labor laws would affect matters. I suppose one could claim fair use, but it seems to me that would be a tough sell where the script is as of yet unpublished.

  5. eric says:

    I don’t have any special insight into this particular issue, but here’s my general impression from a labor law perspective:

    First, on the question of the writers’ status, there wouldn’t seem to be any real dispute that they are employees. If they were not, it would be illegal for them to engage in collective bargaining in the first place.

    Second, the fact that the employer has some, or even all, property rights in the scripts wouldn’t be the end of the discussion. Employers’ property right do sometimes give way to employee/union rights under labor law. The union’s position in this case appears to be that they need the scripts to fulfill their statutory duty as the writers’ bargaining representative. That seems plausible, though I haven’t researched the point.