Intellectual Property, Employment, and Talent Relations
A Media Studies Perspective
This chapter considers twentieth century contests over the terms of creative employment in the United States film and music industries. The sites of creative employment are pre-eminently sites of power relations; cultural industry employers’ dependence on continuous streams of novel intellectual property correlate to contrasting forms of struggle in "talent relations” (a sectorial adaptation of “labour relations”) at the star and rank-and-file levels. This chapter offers brief accounts of Olivia de Havilland’s and Olivia Newton-John’s court disputes over the duration of their contracts (as well as a related change of relevant employment law), and of the American Federation of Musicians’ and the American Federation of Radio Artists’ collective bargaining efforts to stem and compensate for the technological displacement of their members. It argues that, surveyed together, these very different forms of contest reveal distinct logics of corporate control in core copyright industries. The management of the entertainment industries’ constitutive tension between innovation and control has produced regimes of highly constrictive star contracts but it has allowed openings for extraordinary gains by organized creative craftspeople. Stars’ great economic rewards can come at the expense of radical constraint; the AFM, AF(T)RA, and other organizations have been able to significantly democratize their employment.
Matthew Stahl (PhD in Communication, University of California, San Diego, 2006) is Associate Professor of Information and Media Studies at the University of Western Ontario, where he is also a member of the Digital Labour Research Group and participant in that group’s SSHRC-supported research collaboration with Canadian entertainment and media guilds. Stahl’s monograph, Unfree Masters: Recording Artists and the Politics of Work (Duke University Press, 2013) examines the representation and regulation of recording artists’ labour, professionalization, employment contracts, and intellectual property. Other peer-reviewed publications include examinations of the social relations of a San Francisco indie rock scene, film and television representations of musical labour, divisions of creative labour in film and television animation, changes to recording contracts under digitalization of the entertainment industry, contrasting conceptions of creative cultural labour, and cartoon and boy bands.