WGA Strike: Is 'The Office' Blogger a Scab?

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WGA Strike: Is 'The Office' Blogger a Scab?

Wed Nov 28, 2007 @ 05:05PM PST

Posted by Eriq Gardner

Dwightschrute It hasn't been easy for WGA members to figure out which writing activities are okay and not okay during the ongoing strike. Now Rex Sorgatz at Fimuculous wants to know whether the writer(s) who are still blogging as the characters Creed and Dwight Schrute on NBC's "The Office" are breaking union rules by writing for NBC Universal.

Let's assume whoever's penning the blogs is WGA-affiliated (which is a big assumption; we can't imagine why even an aspiring WGA writer would risk the guild's wrath to let the world know that Creed picked up a digital camera in time for Thanksgiving). Even so, the question seems tricky.

On one hand, the WGA's strike rules clearly "prohibit writing services performed for a struck company in connection with new programming intended for initial viewing on non-traditional media." But does that include only multimedia, video, or animation content, as WGA new media committee member Elliot Feldman indicates at Fimuculous?

As a recent THR story illustrates, there may be "more wiggle room than those rules indicate." But the WGA might be concerned that Internet-penned material could find its way onto network airwaves.

Of course, with its team of writer-producers providing some of the most biting criticism of the studios' negotiating position, there's little chance "The Office" will go back into production before the strike ends. But that doesn't solve the query of whether blogging for a TV show's website is permissible. The question of "Internet Interdit" has intrigued some entertainment lawyers, including Jonathan Handel at Troy & Gould, who tells us he had a suspicion the WGA hasn't clearly defined "new media" to anybody's satisfaction. So he called the WGA to find out.

Handel emails us:

Can a WGA member write for such a blog during the strike?

I spoke with WGA Guild spokesman Gregg Mitchell, and his answer was an emphatic "No."  A TV show's fictional blog is just "an extension of the same show," he stated, and the writing is therefore prohibited.

Let's drill down.  The strike rule applies to writing in connection with new "programming" for non-traditional media, but doesn't define that term.  Does a series of blog entries constitute "programming" on the Internet?

Probably so.  We can find guidance in the Sideletter on Literary Material Written for Programs Made for the Internet (2004 Writers Guild MBA, p. 561).  This Sideletter provides limited, optional jurisdiction for new media writing. Two provisions are key.

In one place, the Sideletter refers to "literary material written for the Internet or other similar delivery systems."  The term "literary material," in turn, is defined in the MBA (Art. I.A.5) to include, among other things, "dialogue, ... sketches, ... narrative synopses, routines, and narrations."  This would seem to encompass blog entries.

Also, the Sideletter refers to "audiovisual entertainment programs made for the Internet of the type that have traditionally been covered under the WGA Basic Agreement as well as other types of programs made for the Internet."  I've added the emphasis to make the point: in new media, the Guild's concerns are not limited to audiovisual programming.

So, my analysis is that the strike rules do indeed prohibit blogging for struck-company-owned TV show blogs.  It's odd to think that blog entries -- unadorned text -- constitute "programming."  It's also ironic that a 500-year old art form can be considered "new media." But so it goes in the crazy world where new technology collides with an abstruse, 600-page Guild agreement.

Previously: WGA Strikers Performing 'SNL' and '30 Rock' Live: Can They Do That?

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The Hollywood Reporter, Esq. blog focuses on how the entertainment and media industries are impacted and influenced by the law. It is edited by Matthew Belloni with contributions from veteran legal reporter Eriq Gardner and others. Before joining The Hollywood Reporter, Belloni was a lawyer at an entertainment litigation firm in Los Angeles. He writes a column for THR devoted to entertainment law. Gardner is a New York-based writer and legal journalist. Send tips or comments to [email protected]

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