Ad Hijacked as SAG Factions Turn on One Another

YouTube Prank Doesn't Bode Well for Unified Front in Contract Negotiations

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LOS ANGELES ( -- A new commercial from one faction of the Screen Actors Guild seeking to persuade the guild's members not to go on strike was digitally hijacked, re-cut and posted on YouTube by another faction to argue the opposite position.

The pro-strike version of the commercial, posted by a group identified as "Keep SAG Relevant," was removed from YouTube after its original creators protested, citing copyright infringement -- although a copy can still be seen here.

James Cromwell, a SAG member who appears in the original anti-strike commercial, told Advertising Age he suspected a hard-line SAG faction, called Membership First, of re-cutting and repurposing the commercial.

"It means that they have no principles at all," Mr. Cromwell said.

Use of actors' likenesses online
Diane Ladd, a member of SAG national board as well as Membership First, denied that her compatriots were behind the infringement, noting that maintaining control over an actor's likeness online has been among her top concerns in the now-stalled talks with producers.

Indeed, the reuse of old clips in new media has been among the many stumbling blocks in negotiations over a new TV and theatrical contract. Hollywood's producers have been seeking the right to sell clips from their TV and motion-picture libraries for use on the internet and other new media without the consent of actors.

But except for agreeing that clips including nudity would not be sold, no guarantees were offered about the exploitation of those clips, prompting consternation among some of SAG's board and membership.

Many of the guild's 120,000 members said they feared their work could be reused in the sale of products or causes they abhorred, or repurposed in ways that could otherwise damage their public images.

Beyond product placement
"Have you ever heard of someone taking part of a Renoir and putting it in a Cezanne so they can sell it?" asked Ms. Ladd, a three-time Oscar nominee. She added: "Product placement is one thing. They own the movie, the show; they can do what they like. But if I'm an actor, they can now force me to hold up and sell virtually anything? That's an artistic disaster -- that's the murder of an artistic soul."

The discord between the two sides of SAG does not bode well for the union's other looming contract negotiation: the commercials contract, which expires March 31, when a five-month extension will lapse.

Mr. Cromwell said he disagrees with Ms. Ladd, noting that the current offer from producers contains a "sunset clause" on digital matters that would make a re-examination of the issue possible in a better economic climate.

"There are more-important issues than reuse [of old clips] when the whole country is in as much turmoil as it is," he said. "I am not willing to strike in this environment."

Eager to avoid a strike
Though Mr. Cromwell donated his services for the anti-strike commercial, it was made without SAG funds and paid for by Eric Golden and David Pringle, who own studio-lighting manufacturer Luminys Systems and are eager to avoid a strike. The last strike, by the Writers Guild of America, did more than $2 billion worth of damage to the Los Angeles economy, according to a Los Angeles Economic Development Corp. study.

SAG has been operating without a TV/theatrical contract since July of last year, and last week threatened to take a strike authorization vote to gauge if its members would be willing to engage in a work stoppage that would immediately end all production on motion pictures and most scripted shows on broadcast TV networks. But internal politics interfered, and the vote was filibustered.

In the meantime, both Hollywood and Madison Avenue wait to see if -- and when -- the SAG board will even send the producers' final offer to the union membership for an up-or-down vote.

A spokeswoman for SAG declined to comment.

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