Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Blogging for TV Shows During the Strike

Eriq Gardner at The Hollywood Reporter's Entertainment & Media Law Blog points out, even though "The Office" is dark, its blog continues to be updated. The blog, of course, is in the name of various characters from the show, but someone's writing it. If that someone is a Guild writer - seemingly unlikely, given how outspoken The Office's writers have been - is that writer violating the strike rules?

Eriq noted that I had previously blogged on a related matter, and asked me to comment. My reply, which he ran as part of the post today, was as follows:

Can a WGA member write for [a struck-company owned TV show] blog during the strike?

I spoke with WGA 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." But so it goes in the crazy world where new technology collides with an abstruse, 600-page Guild agreement.