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The following glossary of terms is always a work in progress. Please use the comments section to either propose new terms or changes to the definitions of existing terms.
AMPTP: The Alliance of Motion Picture And Television Producers is the “other side of the table” when it comes to collective bargaining between the creative guilds (WGA, DGA and SAG) and their employers. The AMPTP was formed in order to represent all of the signatory companies during contract negotiations.
Creative Rights: There’s a concept in copyright called “droit moral” or “moral rights”. The idea is that there are certain inherent rights due to the author of a copyrighted work including, for instance, the right to attribution. Since the studio is typically the de jure author, we writers must negotiate for rights inherent to our de facto authorship. You can see a list of such rights here.
Minimum Basic Agreement: The Minimum Basic Agreement is the collectively bargained master contract that governs all employment by signatory companies. The MBA is basic, meaning that writers can individually negotiate terms that are better than those the MBA provides, but never worse. The WGA typically renegotiates the MBA with the signatory companies every three years. While writers’ agents often negotiate salary, amount of steps and credit bonuses, the MBA dictates the terms that are standard to all writers: scale minimums, residuals formulae and many creative rights. Currently, our MBAs cover non-animated motion pictures, non-reality network television and some network and affiliate newswriting as well.
Residuals: If WGA writers retained copyright on what they wrote, they would be entitled to royalties as compensation for the reuse of their material by licensees. Since we do not retain copyright, our union successfully negotiated residuals, which provide a similar benefit. Residuals apply to reuse of our material in supplemental markets (most notably VHS/DVD sales and rentals, as well as PPV). You can read more about residuals here.
Scale: Scale refers to the minimum amount that the signatory companies must pay a WGA writer, per the MBA. Scale varies widely depending on the nature of the work and the budget of the project. You can find all of the scale amounts in the Schedule of Minimums
Spec Scripts: “Spec” is short for “speculative”. When you write a screenplay “on spec” without compensation, you are writing speculatively. WGA writers may write on spec as a matter of choice (and then sell the resulting spec script to a studio), but signatory companies may not force or even ask WGA writers to write on spec.
Writers Guild of America: When we say “WGA”, we typically mean The Writers Guild of America, west. There is also a Writers Guild of America, East. Don’t ask me why the East is capitalized but the west isn’t. Anyway, the two unions are the exclusive screen and TV writers unions in this country, with the WGAw covering everyone west of the Mississippi.
Work For Hire: Generally speaking, if you write something, you’re the author and the copyright owner. However, if you write something for an employer during the scope of your normal employment, or if you’ve been commissioned or specially employed to write something as a contribution to a motion picture, then your literary material can be considered a “work for hire”. Why is this important? When we’re dealing with a work for hire, it’s the employer, not the employee (the person actually doing the writing) who is considered the legal author and copyright holder. Practically every screenplay sold to signatory companies is a work for hire. For reference, here’s the technical definition of the term:
(1) a work prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment; or
(2) a work specially ordered or commissioned for use as a contribution to a collective work, as *a part of a motion picture or other audiovisual work*, as a translation, as a supplementary work, as a compilation, as an instructional text, as a test, as answer material for a test, or as an atlas, if the parties expressly agree in a written instrument signed by them that the work shall be considered a work made for hire.
Working Rule 8: There are a number of Working Rules that the WGA imposes on its members, but perhaps the most important is this one. It states:
No member shall accept employment with, nor option or sell literary material to, any person, firm or corporation who is not signatory to the applicable MBAs.
What that means is that if you’re a WGA writer you can only sell to or work for signatory companies. For what it’s worth (and that’s quite a bit), the signatory companies can only hire writers in the WGA…or writers that must immediately join the WGA immediately following their qualifying employment.