Proletarians to Rentiers? The Talent Guilds and the Residual Right, 1930-1960
This essay explores the intersection of these problematic institutions in the relations of creative work in the cultural industries, firms whose primary activities have to do with the production and marketing of media texts.2 It focuses on flashpoints in the history of talent relations: struggles over labor law as it regulates individual star employment and contract negotiations between cultural industries employers and unionized creative labor. These histories provide lines of critical questioning appropriate to unfolding tensions in the commercial production of culture. As the digitalization of the entertainment industries proceeds, longstanding scarcity-based business models lose relevance and pride of place. As revenues from unit sales of royalty-generating products like CDs and DVDs stall or dwindle, entertainment industry firms increasingly perceive the basis of profitability in control of rights and licenses, rather than in individual unit sales. One effect of these new emphases is firms’ increasing demands for comprehensive labor and property rights assignments by their employed and contracted producers of creative works. These two business tendencies—toward increased control of workers and of (intellectual) property rights—promise ongoing and future contests, as the Writers Guild strike of 2007-08 shows.