Catherine Fisk, University of California, Irvine School of Law

Authors at Work: Writing for Hire in Twentieth Century Film, Television, and Advertising

Mon, 10/12/2015
301 Marx Hall
Event Category: 


Please join us for a LAPA Seminar with Catherine Fisk, Chancellor's Professor of Law at the University of California, Irvine School of Law, who will present "The Rule of Law and Democracy."  The commentator is Daniel Ernst, 2015-2016 LAPA Fellow and Professor of Law at the Georgetown University Law Center.

LAPA’s seminar format assumes that seminar participants have familiarized themselves with the paper in advance. The commentator opens the session by summarizing the main themes in the paper and presenting some topics for discussion. The author then has the right of first response before we open to the floor for questions. The seminar will end with a brief reception, giving everyone a chance to mingle and meet.

Abstract: “Hollywood writers are the unusual white-collar freelance workers who belong to a union, whose union determines attribution of authorship, and who periodically go on strike over compensation for and attribution of intellectual property. Advertisements and commercials, by contrast, have no signed author, even when celebrity photographers, directors, or writers create them.  In the 1940s and ‘50s, ad agencies, film studios, and radio and TV networks employed the same people to do the same work under different labor contracts and credit norms. This paper argues that the strong system of employee collective representation in Hollywood led to industry reliance on binding, transparent, and democratically-created legal rules mediating creation, ownership, and attribution.  And when ad agencies produced TV in the late 1940s, writers waged an epic fight with their employers over whether to follow the salaried labor practices and anonymity norms of Madison Avenue or the freelance labor practices and screen credit rules of Hollywood.”

Catherine Fisk teaches and writes on the law of the workplace, legal history, civil rights and the legal profession. She is the author of dozens of articles and four books, including the prize-winningWorking Knowledge: Employee Innovation and the Rise of the Corporate Intellectual Property, 1800-1930, and Labor Law in the Contemporary Workplace.  Her research focuses on workers at both the high end and the low end of the wage spectrum. She has written on union organizing among low-wage and immigrant workers as well as on labor issues in the entertainment industry, employee mobility in technology sectors, employer-employee disputes over attribution and ownership of intellectual property, the rights of employees and unions to engage in political activity, and labor law reform. She is the co-author, with UCI Law Professor Ann Southworth, of an innovative interdisciplinary casebook, The Legal Profession.  Her current public service includes membership on the SEIU Ethics Review Board, the Board of Directors of the Wage Justice Center, and committees of theLaw & Society Association. Prior to joining the founding faculty of UC Irvine School of Law, Fisk was a chaired professor at Duke Law School, and was on the faculty of the University of Southern California Gould School of Law and Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. She practiced law at a boutique Washington, D.C. firm and at the U.S. Department of Justice. She received her J.D. at UC Berkeley, and an A.B., summa cum laude, from Princeton University.

Daniel R. Ernst *89 is a Professor of Law at the Georgetown University Law Center, where he has taught since 1988. Ernst teaches courses at Georgetown in American legal history and property.  He is the author of Lawyers Against Labor (1995), for which he received the Littleton Griswold Award of the American Historical Association, and Tocqueville’s Nightmare (2014).  He is also the co-editor of Total War and the Law (2003). Ernst was a Fulbright Research Scholar at the National Library of New Zealand in 1996 and a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellow in 2003-04. From 2006 -2010, he was co-editor of "Studies in Legal History," a book series sponsored by the American Society for Legal History and the University of North Carolina Press, and he is the principal contributor to Legal History Blog. Ernst earned his law degree at the University of Chicago.  He received an LL.M. from the University of Wisconsin, and his Ph.D. in history from Princeton University. During his year at LAPA he will be working on a book examining the history of New Deal lawyers.