platform economy, gig economy, definition of employee, Dramatists Guild, Screenwriters Guild
Are platform workers part of a firm or are they working as individual businesses? Are they providing their labor as part of a team, or do they hold on to individual capital throughout their transactions? This essay explores the question of employee versus independent contract through the specific examples of dramatists and screenwriters. Dramatists have chosen to conduct their work as separate artists; they maintain copyright over their work, and they retain control over its use. Screenwriters, on the other hand, work as part of a team; they hand over their copyright to the production company and cede control over it. Although their work has significant artistic and practical similarities, dramatists and screenwriters have completely different relationships with their work and the public consumption of that work. And as a result, dramatists have been classified as independent contractors who are not permitted to unionize, while screenwriters have the Writers Guild of America and a complex set of rights under collective bargaining agreements. This distinction provides a useful approach in categorizing platform workers. The essay argues that workers who retain a significant chunk of their business value, through such forms as intellectual property rights, business goodwill, or consumer reputational capital, should be classified as independent contractors, like the dramatists. However, when workers cede their individual production to and for a larger group, such as the screenwriters, they should be protected as employees like screenwriters.
Bodie, Matthew T., Lessons from the Dramatists Guild for the Platform Economy (September 21, 2018). University of Chicago Legal Forum, 2017.