Tag Archives: rights

Creating the Conditions for Sustainability in Recording

by Marc Ribot, Member of Local 802’s Artist Rights Caucus

Local 802 (New York City) guitarist Marc Ribot is an active member of the local’s Artist Rights Caucus.

The Artist Rights Caucus of Local 802 (New York City) congratulates AFM President Ray Hair and the AFM’s negotiating team on the impressive gains won in the Sound Recording Labor Agreement (SRLA). We share President Hair’s hope that these gains reflect a beginning of the end of the disastrous period in which our industry “reel[ed] from the erosion of traditional business models … in the context of revenues that have declined by nearly two-thirds in the last two decades.”

As President Hair’s column “Streaming Funds Pension, Residuals in New Label Deal” (March 2017, IM) made clear, these gains reflect both the solidarity of our membership, and the tough, skilled negotiations of the AFM’s representatives. They also reflect growth in the industry as a whole.

However, if this progress is to be sustainable, working musicians can’t afford to be spectators in the fight against Silicon Valley’s attacks on our rights and livelihoods. We need to understand how the mass infringement of copyright by online services continues to limit and threaten growth in our industry, and we need to continue the fight against this and other Silicon Valley attacks.

We need to understand that the 57% gain in the streaming market does not represent a 57% gain in overall industry revenue. Actual industry growth in 2016 was somewhere between 3.2% and 8%, according to the IFPI Global Music Report 2016 (ifpi.org/news/IFPI-GLOBAL-MUSIC-REPORT-2016). Although streaming revenue growth rates are up, the rate per spin continues to fall. So as streaming cannibalizes sales, it not only fails to make up the revenue from sales, but as reported on the website Digital Music News (www.digitalmusicnews.com/2017/05/16/spotify-audiam-low-rates/), it makes up a shrinking share of overall revenue. Also, we need to understand recent growth in the context of overall industry losses of more than 60% since 1999, as reported in an April 2015 Music Business Worldwide article (www.musicbusinessworldwide.com/global-record-industry-income-drops-below-15bn-for-first-time-in-history/).

New York City rank-and-file group Musicians’ Action demonstrates for Artists Rights outside hearings
on section 512 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act being held by the US Copyright Office in the Thurgood Marshall Courthouse in Manhattan.

For growth to be sustainable, and for it to come close to offsetting the revenue lost from the dramatic decline in CD sales and legal downloads, we need to end the mass infringement of copyright taking place on YouTube and pirate sites. Until the “safe harbors” that protect online corporations profiting from mass infringement are restricted, there is no way that the streaming market can ever hope to reach its potential. Indeed, it is highly questionable whether Spotify, which has yet to post a profit, and which may soon face major challenges from songwriters and publishers, can even survive.

Musicians and creators have a tremendous stake in ensuring that online services are viable for users, distributors, and creators. We can gladly support user access to music in many different formats—including streaming—so long as our copyrights are respected and we are adequately compensated. But we will never be adequately compensated through streaming services unless all services compete on a fair and equal footing.

Right now, this is not the case. Fully licensed and legal services like Spotify, Deezer, and Apple must compete against platforms that reap ad-based profit from mass infringement (e.g., YouTube) or provide access to pirate sites (e.g., torrent sites via Google search), while hiding behind the safe harbor clauses of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). This unfair competition prevents the development of a true market for online music, depresses licensing revenue, slows conversion to the paid (premium) tiers of streaming services, and ultimately, takes money out of the pockets of musicians and the companies that hire musicians.  

In order to sustain the gains won in recent contract negotiations, the AFM must address these impediments. It can do so by focusing its political resources on the legislative goals outlined in the AFM and music community response to the US Copyright Offices (USCO) inquiry on Section 512 of the DMCA, mobilizing resources and membership in support of these goals, and urging the other unions and organizational signers of the music community USCO response to do the same.

The members of the Artist Rights Caucus of Local 802 understand that the futures of our livelihoods, industry, and art form are at stake. We believe that together, through our union, we can reinstate fair market conditions in our industry, and sustain the progress made in this contract into the next one and beyond. Questions or feedback for the Artist Rights Caucus can be sent to: artistrightscaucus@gmail.com.

Equal Pay Is Top Issue for Working Women

A poll conducted by the website InHerSight.com showed that, for the majority of women in the workplace, correcting the gender pay gap is their number one priority. Among concerns listed by the 500 respondents 31.5% deemed correcting the pay gap as their top priority. Other concerns included establishing more flexible work hours (28%), promoting more women to senior leadership (14%), increased parental leave benefits (11%), and better training and responsiveness related to sexual harassment (4.5%).


Bruce Fife headshot

You Can Be Heard—NOW!

Every six months, or so, I am tasked with writing an article for the International Musician. More often than not, the impetus for the topic relates to something that I’m dealing with as president of Local 99 (Portland, OR). As I’ve stated before, it’s one of the true positive outcomes of our AFM structure, in that, as an officer of a local, I can bring the daily, real world issues directly to the international governing body, which can then lead to the change and growth required in these challenging times. 

Such is the case with this article. In recent months, Local 99 has seen a significant number of violations by employers in both our national agreements and some of our local agreements. In most of these cases, they are not circumstances that are being brought to my attention by musicians working under the agreements. They are violations that I have been able to ascertain, based on report forms, or research that uncovers new and/or false information.

Following the discovery of these contract violations, I locate and reach out to the musicians (not always so easy, as some may not be members yet), explain the circumstances, and with their help, work to rectify the situation. When successful, that usually means additional payments to the musicians in the form of wages, health care, and/or pension. In reaching out, I have been met with the full range of reactions: from “I don’t want to bother with this” to “let’s take them down,” and every level in between. In one recent case, the musician didn’t want to pursue a claim, then changed his mind, and we (the local and Federation) were able to procure almost $11,000 in wages and benefits for him.

As I ponder this situation, it naturally occurs to me that, if I’m the one catching these contract violations, covering dozens of contracts and completely different work locations, activities, and employers, this must be just a small percentage of what is really taking place. That leads me to question why the musicians working under these agreements, who often complain about not being able to make enough money, do not contact their local or the Federation about these contract violations.

There are two obvious reasons for this. The first is knowledge. If you don’t know the terms of the agreement you are working under, you don’t know how you are supposed to be treated or paid.

That is an easy fix. If it’s a national agreement, the terms are located on the AFM website for you to review. If you can’t find them on the site, contact your local and I’m sure they can help track them down. If it’s a local contract, ask for a copy, or talk with your local officer about the terms. Knowing and understanding the terms of the contract(s) you’re working under is a pretty easy way to determine if you’re being paid and treated properly.

The other reason is fear. Believe me, this is a big one and can be very difficult. You might think that, if you stand up for your right to be treated as required by the contract, which the signing company or organization has agreed to, you could be let go, not hired again, or disrespected in your music community, depending on the scope of the contract. Know that I, as a local officer, don’t want to see this happen to anyone. It is my job to deflect and take the heat away from musicians as we work through the issues. It should be noted in all these cases: the contract is between the union and the producer (employer). An individual musician does not have the authority to waive the terms of that agreement. Working together, though, we should be able to navigate the issues, protect your relationships, and get you the money you’re owed.   

Beyond the realm of these two examples, though, I’m sure there are other reasons why musicians don’t bring contract violations to the attention of their local officers. If we don’t know about something, we can’t work to resolve it. So I’m going to do something crazy here (at least it might prove to be). I would like to hear about all your reasons for not communicating with your local about contract violations, especially the wage violations that you have experienced. I encourage you to read and understand the contracts you are working under so you at least know if there are violations. You can email or snail mail me your story. Mail makes it easier to protect your anonymity, but whichever you choose, your identity will not be shared. I only ask that you identify the local you are a member of.

You can send your story to either bfife@afm99.org or to Bruce Fife, PO Box 42485, Portland, OR, 97242.

Know your value and stand up for your rights!

AFL-CIO Commits to Mobilizing Women in 2016

Women make up more than half of the US electorate and vote at higher rates than men. From now until November, the AFL-CIO will be talking to women voters about the issues that impact them the most to ensure that women remain at the forefront of the conversation.

Today, the AFL-CIO Executive Council reinforced its commitment to advancing the rights of all working women and men—union or non-union—with the adoption of the Economic Agenda for Working Women and Our Families. The labor movement will continue to fight for equal pay, family friendly policies, high-quality education, and the right to negotiate better working conditions.

According to the AFL-CIO, “This year we are going to elect pro-worker, pro-woman, and pro-family candidates. Hillary Clinton’s historic nomination for president shattered the glass ceiling, and we stand behind her.”

To read the full Economic Agenda for Working Women and Our Families click here: www.aflcio.org/working-women-economic-agenda

Supreme Court

An Empty Seat on the Supreme Court: What It Means for Unions

With the sudden death of Justice Antonin Scalia, I’m reminded of a time when I had the great pleasure of meeting and spending time with the late Justice many years ago. It was 1976, during the country’s bicentennial. I was involved with organizing an Italian Heritage Festival and we invited him to Clarksburg, West Virginia, to be honored as Italian American of the Year.

He was extremely engaging and wanted to know more about the people and the history of the area. Of course, I was happy to fill him in about different aspects of the region and its long history of coal mining. And in fact, Italian Americans were the largest ethnic group, first and second generation, to arrive when companies were recruiting men to work the deep mines of West Virginia. It’s a region so steeped in Italian culture that many small towns in the state are almost like towns and villages in Italy. It was also home to some the earliest and fiercest battles of US labor unions.

One of the rulings currently on the docket of the highest Court is Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association (CTA). (I discussed this case in-depth in my January 2016 IM column.) The case focuses on a lawsuit that seeks to destroy public-sector unions by attacking their funding model. Rebecca Friedrichs and nine other nonunion teachers in California are challenging the law that requires them to pay their dues, via agency fees, for the services the union is required by law, under collective bargaining agreements (CBAs), to provide all workers.

If the Court rules with the plaintiffs, some employees will be able to avoid paying their share of fees—fees that support negotiations for all workers. It would make unionization harder for everyone. In the end, nonpaying employees would receive all the benefits of a union negotiating on their behalf, without helping to cover the cost of the work involved. A Supreme Court ruling that goes against the unions could affect public safety standards across the US. First responders—the police force, fire fighters, and EMS technicians—will not be able to negotiate for life-saving equipment or for shorter response times. Many would be out of the union entirely. And at the heart of this case—our teachers—would lose their ability to negotiate for smaller class sizes and improved educational standards. It would devastate the union movement.

Now, with a vacancy on the bench, the Court’s ruling is a tie and the law reverts back to a past decision, in the lower circuit court, where the decision was originally in the union’s favor. Justice Scalia would undoubtedly have voted against the unions.

Justice Scalia’s death came suddenly and at a particularly tumultuous time politically. While contentious presidential candidates run amok, a mulish Congress digs its heels in even further, now vowing to block anyone President Obama nominates to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court. If they thwart a nomination, it would hurt the Republican’s own cause. Even some of their front runners urge them to allow nomination.

Whether or not the president makes a nomination and that nomination is considered by Congress should not even be a question. The Constitution does not say “may” appoint a successor, it says the president “shall” appoint. The president would be derelict in his duty if he did not make the appointment. And Congress would be more derelict in its duty if it tried any chicanery to try to avoid it. They have a right to confirm or not, but the appointee needs to go to the committee.

AFM, Media Convergence and Performance Rights Part 2

In this five-part series, we look briefly at AFM’s origins, structure, media agreements, historical challenges from the rise of technology, disruption of established media business models, institutional stress from a new techno-economic paradigm, and opportunities for new money for musicians from performance rights. In part two below, we examine early efforts to organize and monetize media services, modern Federation media agreements, and the underlying pressures to lower standards.

The future of the Federation depends in part on its ability to bargain progressive media agreements despite global competitiveness and a burgeoning background of web-based, user-generated-content that has blurred the lines between broadcasting and other media across all elements of consumption. To understand what is happening now in music and media, we look to our past to remember who we are, where we came from, what we did, and to see where we go from here.

Continue reading

AFM Sues Film Studios

In May, the AFM filed a lawsuit against Warner Bros., Paramount, and MGM for violating their master contracts by recording film scores outside the US and Canada. According to the suit, scores for Interstellar, Robocop, and Carrie were scored in Great Britian, and the soundtack for Journey 2: The Mysterious Island was recorded in Papua New Guinea and Australia.

Under their AFM agreements “[all] theatrical motion pictures produced by the Producer in the United States or Canada, if scored, shall be scored in the United States or Canada,” unless excused by the AFM under circumstances not present here.

The AFM has not specified a dollar amount for damages, but has asked for a trial to determine damages to its members for loss of work due to the violations.

The AFM has also been hard at work lobbying for tax break legislation to help stem the tide of the offshoring of film scoring projects both at the local and federal level. On page 8, read about California’s proposed bill AB 1199 and how California locals are working to make sure it pushes forward.