A bill that would allow playwrights to negotiate Broadway contracts as a group was introduced in the U.S. Senate on April 10.
Senators Chuck Schumer (D) of New York and Orrin Hatch (R) of Utah are the sponsors of the legislation. A similar bill was introduced in the House of Representatives last December by Rep. Barney Frank (D) of Massachusetts and Rep. Henry Hyde (R) of Illinois. If passed into law, the Playwrights Licensing Relief Act of 2002 could have a far-reaching impact on the Broadway theatre. The bill would effectively give dramatists the same collective bargaining powers long enjoyed by actors, directors, stagehands and other theatrical professions. Up until now, anti-trust laws have forced scribes to negotiate such things as royalties, licensing of titles, development and productions as independent contractors.
"In a marketplace increasingly dominated by large corporations, individual playwrights need to be able to stand together to collectively negotiate contracts," said Schumer from the stage of the Elizabethan Theater at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington.
Those who consider the theatre a playwright's medium might be surprised to discover that, at the negotiating table, dramatists arguably possess the least degree of power of any creative group. Unlike, say, Actors' Equity, the Dramatists Guild is an association, not a union and is not covered under the National Labor Relations Act. As a result, anti-trust laws prevent the guild's members from sitting down as a whole to negotiate a Broadway production contract. Instead, each writer works out an individual contract. This means that where, say, Neil Simon might make out well, a first time playwright would likely fare comparatively poorly.
Currently, dramatists and producers work from the Approved Production Contract, which was forged in the early '80s. That pact was made after the League of American Theatres and Producers hit the guild with an antitrust action, reported Variety. Since then, the guild and its president, librettist John Weidman, had attempted to alter relations between writers and producers. "Over the course of the last two years," Weidman told Variety, "we approached the League and various producers to talk about how we did business. We had some interesting meetings, but in the end we were rebuffed. A number of producers thought it was a good idea but they feared anti-trust problems and accusations of price-fixing in a field in which the market is supposed to operate without restraints. This bill get rid of the long shadow of anti-trust."
The guild approached Washington about the problem a few months ago.
The House bill reads: "The antitrust laws shall not apply to—A) agreement by and among playwrights, or by and among representatives or associations of playwrights; or B) concerted action taken by playwrights or by representatives or associations of playwright."
—By Robert Simonson