UCLA Entertainment/Sports Labor Conference This Fri./Sat.

UCLA's Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, whose focus is usually on traditional unions and workplaces, is going Hollywood this weekend, hosting a conference that looks at the unusual nature of work in the entertainment industry and its equally bespoke sibling, the sports industry.

The meeting, titled “Labor, Entertainment, & Sports: An Intersectional and Interdisciplinary Inquiry,” is a two-day, all-day affair, Friday and Saturday, April 17-18, at the Crowne Plaza Beverly Hills Hotel.

I'll be one of the panelists and will be speaking about residuals. For more info, see my curtain raiser at www.hollywoodreporter.com/thr-esq/ucla-host-entertainment-sports-labor-789060.

Will Self-Driving Cars be Ethical?

That might sound like a strange question, but in fact self-driving cars will have to make hard decisions: when accidents are unavoidable, who should live and who should die? Those choices will be programmed in, but who will guide the programmers?

For more, see my latest article on self-driving cars, this one authored with Grady Johnson, appearing on Fortune: http://fortune.com/2015/02/25/self-driving-cars-the-first-potentially-deadly-robots/.

Entertainment Labor Bibliography Reviewed!

My book Entertainment Labor: An Interdisciplinary Bibliography was just reviewed in the Labor Studies Journal (subscription). In her review, Prof. Sheree Gregory said the book is "extremely well researched, providing both depth and breadth in its coverage" and contains "extensive references."

She called it "user-friendly and accessible" and added that it "would be useful to academics, attorneys, or legal scholars who study or work with the entertainment unions and graduate students interested in entertainment labor issues."

Thank you professor, for a very nice review!

In a previous review, the American Association of Law Librarians said the book "has something for everyone.... For any librarian looking for a comprehensive, very specific work on resources regarding guilds and unions in the entertainment industry, Entertainment Labor: An Interdisciplinary Bibliography could meet your needs...and perhaps even those needs you never knew you had until you've seen the unique scope of this work."

The book, a 345 page reference containing over 1,500 citations to books, articles, dissertations, legal cases and other resources, includes:

• Annotations (where necessary to explain the relevance of the book or article)

• Capsule descriptions of legal cases

• Page references (where only a portion of the book or article is relevant)

• URLs (for full-text articles that are available online at no charge)

• A detailed chapter on materials available from the unions and guilds themselves

• A 90-page index

It’s a Play! It’s Live Internet TV! It’s Both, and it Opens in Los Angeles on Friday

‘The Noir Series’ harkens back to the days of live TV but presents a thoroughly modern challenge to entertainment unions

'Bad Medicine,' a segment from 'The Noir Series,' features a chain-smoking doctor and two disconcerting nurses. Credit:   Turner Munch.

'Bad Medicine,' a segment from 'The Noir Series,' features a chain-smoking doctor and two disconcerting nurses. Credit: Turner Munch.

Somewhat like Shimmer, Saturday Night Live’s mysterious concoction that was both a floor wax and a dessert topping, a production called The Noir Series that runs this weekend in Los Angeles manages to be both a stage play and live Internet TV. You can buy “studio audience tickets” to see the show in person at the Schkapf Theatre or purchase online viewing tickets. The producers – who describe the show as a 90 minute omnibus comprised of “four plays inspired by the dark and pulpy noir of Hollywood’s past, filmed and streamed with an eye towards Hollywood’s future” – will be happy either way.

But will Actors’ Equity, the union that governs live theatre? Produced under the banner of Heretick Theatre Lab, The Noir Series seems to challenge Equity’s long-held determination to disallow recording or streaming of plays in order to preserve the primacy of the live performance.

Seemingly, the solution adopted by Heretick’s artistic director Jennifer Cotteleer is simple: the production went with a SAG-AFTRA new media contract rather than an Equity agreement. But it's not quite that easy: Cotteleer acknowledged that the production “is a play” -- and SAG-AFTRA contracts haven't always saved the day when the experiment was tried in New York.

For more on this innovative production and its challenges, click through to my article in The Hollywood Reporter.

'Citizenfour' Review: Quiet Moments in a Hong Kong Hotel Room as Edward Snowden, Journalists Fight to Save Democracy

Hong Kong has been ground zero this year in the fight for freedom, with students and Occupy leaders battling police for control of the streets in a desperate campaign to maintain the Chinese territory’s relative autonomy from erosion by the central Beijing government.

But the city hosted much quieter freedom fighters a year earlier, not on the streets but in the confines of an international hotel room. When journalist Glenn Greenwald and documentary film maker / journalist Laura Poitras responded to emails from an intelligence community member who identified himself at first only as “Citizenfour,” little did they how deep the rabbit hole would be and that unraveling history’s largest spying operation – a worldwide mass dragnet by the NSA that targets essentially everyone on earth – would mean traveling to Hong Kong and debriefing Snowden in a hotel room from which none of them would emerge unchanged.

Nor, it seems likely, will the audience of Citizenfour, which takes the viewer inside that hotel room via footage Poitras shot as the interviews with Snowden unfolded. Even though we now know, thank to the courage of Snowden, and of Greenwald, Poitras and their colleagues, that the NS’s warrantless programs hoover up everything from everyone, domestic and foreign, emails, telephone calls, metadata and apparently  contents as well, it’s nonetheless gripping to watch the interplay between source and journalists as the latter learn the details and attempt to figure out what to do about it.

Snowden, young, handsome, sincere, is outwardly calm, willing to give up his comfortable life, family ties, and perhaps his freedom to slow the U.S.’s slide towards a nation of subjects rather than citizens. But his Adam’s Apple betrays him. Take a close look and you can see he’s swallowing hard, even as he insists he’s made his peace with the choice to sacrifice his own comfort for the greater good. Later, when he rearranges his hair to muddle his identity as he prepares to slip underground, his curses at an errant cowlick underscore the anxiety he feels.

As a journalist, I’ve worked with anxious sources, tried to uncover truths, published secret documents and laid bare the backroom dealings of closed-door meetings. I’ve never worked on anything as momentous as Poitras and Greenwald’s brief, nor put my life (cf. war reporters) or freedom at risk, but Citizenfour nonetheless felt eerily familiar in its duet between source and reporter, as documents and thumbdrives change hands and broad contexts and telling details emerge.

As a former math geek and computer scientist, I’ve long been interested in the NSA, and knew that the nascent intelligence community during World War II had monitored every international telephone call and telegram from or to the U.S. As far back as the early 1980’s – when I worked for the military-contractor think tank that created the Internet’s predecessor for the Defense Department – I figured that computerized monitoring of international communications was taking place (though I never worked on such projects), so the Snowden revelations at one level were unsurprising. But they didn’t fail to chill last year, nor when seen again in the film.

Not all of the documentary takes place in the hotel room. Particularly unnerving is footage of earthmovers in the Utah mountains relentlessly clawing at the landscape as they construct a massive NSA data center to store the intercepts that Snowden says the agency in drowning in – so much so, he says, that the intelligence community has lost the ability to find the valuable information in its own hoard. Dogged in their pursuit of bedrock, the steamshovels’ unforgiving appetite for raw earth and their inexorable attack on the landscape become in Poitras’s sure hands visual signifiers of the greed for information – and thus power – that characterizes the security apparatus that has flowered since 9/11 under both Bush and Obama.

The tension between national security and freedom has seldom been tauter, nor the balance harder to strike in a world where every bit, byte and packet is subject not just to interception but also to weaponization. With his actions, Snowden ignited a debate that will long continue, and Citizenfour, the third film of a post-9/11 trilogy – the other films landed Poitras on a secret watch list from which she found no escape and drove her to relocate to Berlin –  will stand as an urgent and gripping record. See it this weekend. The NSA probably already has.

New Residuals Chart Available

My full color residuals chart has been downloaded all over town, popular ever since I introduced it in 2009 as an unparalleled summary of complex provisions scattered across 2,000 pages of almost impenetrable contracts. Whoa, that's a mouthful. And to that I say, let the downloads begin again!

Why? Because the 2014 edition is here. (Where? Try clicking here: jhandel.com/residuals) What's changed? A lot. The new high budget Subscription Video On Demand (SVOD) formulas are in the new edition, as are changes to the existing new media formulas and a few other new additions regarding digital intermediate channels and regarding simultaneous streaming.

All this new new media stuff made it impossible to keep the main chart to a single page. So now, instead of a one page summary and one page of contract cross references, you get a two page summary, a page of contract references and a page explaining the chart's abbreviations more clearly than before.

And even better for tired eyes, the new format means I've been able to use larger fonts in most places. You can finally put away your jeweler's loupe. (Mostly.)

And coming soon: the chart inspired a 200 page book that explains the residuals system in full color. I've been using drafts with my students at Southwestern Law School for several years -- but now I hope to finish the book this fall and make it publicly available. Sign up for my newsletter to be alerted when the book comes out. And go to jhandel.com/residuals for more information on the chart and book.

An Actor's Cautionary Tale: Cancer Diagnosis and a Drawn-Out Battle Over Residuals

Actors often complain about late residuals checks, although SAG-AFTRA has cut processing delays lately. But few stories compare to the battle waged by Alex Doe (a pseudonym), a voice actor who was diagnosed with cancer in 2012 and endured a 3-1/2-year residuals runaround from Warner Bros. and SAG-AFTRA that ultimately  threatened Doe's health insurance.

(Residuals are royalties that are paid to actors, writers, directors and musicians when movies and TV shows are rerun or are released in other media such as DVD or the Internet. They're not small potatoes: residuals can amount to 40 percent of an actor's income, and total about $2 billion per year.)

How did this happen? Boomerang, an offshoot of Time Warner's Cartoon Network, failed to report thousands of reruns of the actor's show for several years, and the Warner Bros. residuals department resisted the union's contrary data. The actor filed a claim with SAG in February 2011, and the union and studio began arguing about the number of reruns and whether Doe had been overpaid on a DVD release.

Warners repeatedly promised more information -- surprisingly, collective bargaining agreements don't require that any particular data be provided -- and months often passed between emails and phone calls. In 2012, the head of the union's residuals claims department referred the matter to a legal department attorney.

But even with both departments involved, the delays continued. For more details, and the surprising resolution, see The Hollywood Reporter.

Trademarking Movie Titles

Book and movie titles fall in a gray area in U.S. law. For instance, although a book or movie is protected by copyright, its title isn't. Copyright simply doesn't cover titles.

And even if the title is distinctive, such as The 40-Year-Old Virgin, courts and the Trademark Office say it can't be registered as a trademark, even though distinctive words and slogans can be registered as trademarks in other contexts. There's an exception for series titles, such as Harry Potter, but that's of no help to single-work titles.

The rule against trademark registration purports to be absolute, and has been in place for at least 55 years. Nonetheless, I've developed ways to protect single-work movie titles using trademark registration -- effectively circumventing the long-established rule.

Back in 2008, I wrote a short article on the subject, in relatively plain English. It was the cover story in Los Angeles Lawyer magazine and continues to be widely read and requested. Click the link and check it out, or at least look at the picture on the cover and the amusing illustrations the magazine added.

Making for the Exit: Poli-tech Firms are Still Waiting on a Lucrative, Silicon Valley-Style Exit

An eye-popping $1.2 billion in venture capital funding for Uber. Growing interest in media companies. Dollars for biotech. Venture capitalist (VC) money frothing to its highest quarterly total since 2001. But where’s the love for political tech startups? Why aren’t they getting a piece of the VC pie?

Actually, a few are, but most of the VCs and CEOs I spoke with agreed it’s harder for poli-tech to get funding, and even harder for its firms to receive the kind of exits that make the Silicon Valley ecosystem thrive.

To find out why, check out my new article in Campaigns & Elections magazine.