2005 August 24 Wednesday
Steve Sailer On Hollywood Blacklist And Intellectual Property Fights

Writing for The American Conservative Steve Sailer puts a different spin on the motivations behind the Hollywood blacklist against communists.

A 1919 theatre strike won the playwrights of Dramatists Guild the right to retain copyright in their works. To this day, dramatists own their plays and merely license them to producers. Further, they have the right to approve or reject the cast, director, and any proposed changes in the dialogue. Contractually, a playwright is a rugged individualist, an Ayn Rand hero.

If memory serves, Rand had total (and highly unusual) editorial control of the script for the movie version of The Fountainhead. The communist script writers must have been very envious.

But the Hollywood movie script writers did not enjoy this legal right and their battle against the Hollywood studios over the right to control their own intellectual property led to to the blacklist against communists.

Insanely ironic as it seems now, many screenwriters became Communists because they despised the movie business' need for cooperation. How turning command of the entire economy over to a dictatorship would restore the unfettered joys of individual craftsmanship was a little fuzzy, but, hey, if you couldn't trust Stalin, whom could you trust?

The possibility of studios blacklisting writers first surfaced in the 1930s when the moguls' cartel turned aside the leftist screenwriters' push to align themselves with the Dramatists Guild by threatening to fire union supporters. "It wouldn't be a blacklist because it would all be done over the telephone," Jack Warner explained.

Decades later, after the formal Blacklist era, this labor-management conflict was eventually resolved by a tacit compromise. The blacklisted writers were elevated in the collective memory to the role of martyrs. Their leftism (but not their Stalinism, which was conveniently forgotten) was enshrined as the appropriate ideology of all respectable movie folk.

In return, the producers damn well hung on to their property rights in screenplays.

This is not history as popularly portrayed, now is it? Stalinist writers fighting for copyright control (in other words, intellectual property) of their own works? Oh, and they conducted this fight against the command economies which operated inside each movie studio. How convenient that the US Congress pressured Hollywood on communists. Just the excuse needed to break their attempt to get more intellectual property.

A too little recognized aspect of corporate capitalism is that internally corporations are command economies. They are not based on the Marxist "from each according to his ability and to each according to his need". Rather, they operate more like "from each to the extent we can pressure him to work harder and to each according to whether he can get a higher salary inside another corporate command economy". But even that limited right only works when a corporate command economy won't sue a departing worker for taking a job at a competitor with the claim the worker is taking company secrets with him.

Legal reforms that establish more property rights for individual knowledge workers make industry less a bunch of large command economies. Whether that would be more or less fair or more or less economically efficient is hard to say. I suspect such reforms would tend to increase economic inequality and also boost productivity by providing much more incentive to create.

Steve's article makes a wide assortment of other observations about the movie industry, politics, and American culture. Suggest you read it in full.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2005 August 24 11:56 AM  Politics Money


Comments
John S Bolton said at August 25, 2005 11:13 AM:

Employers should have the right to maintain blacklists of those who want to steal from them. Freedom for aggression is the opposite of the true mening of freedom. The employers' right to freedom from aggression is important, and when it is not available to the organizations which transmit culture on whatever level, because guild socialist aggression has gotten away with something, the progress of civilization is stifled.

DR said at August 26, 2005 12:31 PM:

Legend has it Rand discovered that Vidor, the Fountainhead's director, was shooting a shortened version of her courtroom scene. She stormed into Jack Warner's office and threatened him to his face that she would burn down his studios. Instead of firing her (or calling the cops), Jack folded immediately and Vidor was ordered to shoot the scene as La Rand wrote it.

Later, at the premiere, Rand noticed that the editor (a backstabbing looter!) had taken out a short line from that same courtroom scene and this was one of the reasons she was bitterly disappointed in the movie qua work of art. All this from Barbara Branden's bio _The Passion of Ayn Rand_, a sometimes unreliable chronicle but certainly readable.

David Davenport said at August 26, 2005 3:37 PM:

[ A too little recognized aspect of corporate capitalism is that internally corporations are command economies. They are not based on the Marxist "from each according to his ability and to each according to his need". Rather, they operate more like "from each to the extent we can pressure him to work harder and to each according to whether he can get a higher salary inside another corporate command economy". ]

Nope, the commanders of a command economy can enforce wage and price controls at rival firms. If workers can bargain for higher wages by threatening to go to another firm that pays better, then that's not a command economy. That's whatcha call a relatively free market economy.

"... They are not based on the Marxist "from each according to his ability and to each according to his need"...." of course not!

Randall Parker said at August 26, 2005 4:13 PM:

Again, I said internally corporations are like command economies. Each corporation is a command economy. The departments are not free to go outside of the corporation to get services and supplies that management has decided will come from within the corporation.

Also, a salary worker is not selling each unit of his work inside the company to the highest bidder. One department can not hire him away from another department for a big raise.

Also, large corporations by their very size reduce the number of buyers of labor.


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