John Ostrander: Legal Fiction
At one company I worked at, I received a contract and, in the boilerplate text, there was a new phrase, something that I didn’t understand. I asked my editor about it; he didn’t understand it either and shrugged and said, “Just sign it so we can get the project going.” I went on to a business manager who didn’t know what the phrase meant either but said, “Oh, John – we’re all friends here. Don’t worry about it.” I continued to pursue it up through a corporate counsel who finally told me what it meant.
The phrase said that the company could do anything they wanted to my scripts, change them as they deemed fit, and publish them under my name without even telling me. Once I understood what the phrase meant, I wanted it taken out (I had more leverage in those days and was able to do that). My reasoning – all I had to trade on was my name. An employer hires me based on my track record and that track record is based on what has appeared under my name. That’s my livelihood and I couldn’t let someone else change my work without the right to remove my name.
In general, I have liked, respected, and gotten along well with the editors for whom I’ve worked. They, however, are not the company. They may represent the company but they are not the company. They may leave, get fired, die or in some other manner not wind up employed at the company. It’s my “hit by a bus” theory. If everyone at a given company I know went out for lunch together and got hit by a bus, all I would have is the contract that I signed.
Despite what some politicians may have told you, companies are not people, too, my friend. They are “people” only as a legal fiction; the law treats them as a “person” in the sense that they can sign binding contracts, sue or get sued, and enter into other legal situations that supposedly can only happen between two “people.”
You do not have a relationship with a corporation; you have a relationship with people who work at a corporation. Corporations are not family. They are not sentient, they are not cognizant, and one could argue they are rarely intelligent. Multinational corporations and conglomerates do not belong to any one nation and their loyalties belong to no one nation but rather to themselves and, in theory, their stockholders, although top executives can make sure they get their bonuses even if the company fails.
Corporations do not believe in equality; corporations are hierarchical, usually male dominated, and white. Management is the top echelon and the workers, who do most of the heavy lifting, are drones. In artistic matters, they will tell you that the people with the money are more vital than the creative types. After all, creative people are a dime a dozen; another will be around in a minute or two. The guys with the money are the ones taking the financial risk and, thus, are more valuable. You can always get another idea to fund. Theirs is the corporate mindset – it’s the money that matters most. Artistic ideas are just widgets as are their creators.
Despite a remarkably boneheaded Supreme Court decision, money does not equal free speech. It enables you to buy the soapbox from which you can exercise your free speech and the more money you have, the bigger soapbox you can buy. The money that corporations have enables them to buy extremely large soapboxes outfitted with loudspeakers that common citizens cannot afford. This electoral cycle we’re seeing unprecedented amount of spending both by corporations and by individuals made rich by their corporate holdings. That creates an imbalance between the legal fictions that are corporations and the humans that are the actual citizens.
I’ll grant that all this sounds like I really hate corporations. I don’t. They are a necessity. I respect them when they act in a manner deserving respect, and I respect their power. I simply don’t think they are more important than the individual and that their rights should supercede those of the average citizen.
The preamble to the United States Constitution refers to “We, the People”, not “We, the Corporations.” When the framers of the Constitution said that its purpose was “to secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity” they weren’t talking about the legal fictions that are corporations.
I don’t expect corporations to be my friends no matter what their corporate spokesmen and animated logos may tell me. I know who my friends are, I know who my family is, and they aren’t legal fictions. Nothing personal; corporations aren’t persons. It’s business for them and that’s how it is for me.
MONDAY: Mindy Newell