According to Variety, a federal judge refused to dismiss a lawsuit against Walt Disney Company, Dreamworks Animation, Sony ImageWorks, and other companies alleging they violated antitrust laws by conspiring to set animation wages through nonpoaching agreements. The suit was filed by three former animation employees at Rhythm & Hues, Walt Disney Feature Animation, and ImageMovers Digital who contend that the antipoaching agreements began in the mid-1980s, when George Lucas and Pixar President Ed Catmull agreed to not raid each other’s employees. Other companies later joined in. Among other things, companies routinely notified each other when making an offer to an employee of another company.
This week the AFM filed suit against several recording companies over digital music distribution revenue. According to the suit Atlantic Recording Corporation (Atlantic), Hollywood Records (Hollywood), Sony Music Entertainment (Sony), Universal Music Group Recordings, Inc. (UMG), and Warner Brothers Records, Inc. (Warner) failed to make pension fund contributions from foreign audio stream revenue and foreign and domestic ringback revenue.
The major recording companies’ long-held contracts with the AFM require the companies to share a portion of sales revenue with musicians. Most of the revenue was originally from record sales and later CD sales. In 1994 AFM and the recording companies entered into an agreement, subsequently renewed, requiring the companies to pay 0.5% of all receipts from digital transmissions including audio streaming, nonpermanent downloads, and ringbacks.
“The record companies should stop playing games about their streaming revenue and pay musicians and their pension fund every dime that is owed,” says AFM President Ray Hair. “Fairness and transparency are severely lacking in this business. We are changing that.”
Last year independent auditors discovered that the recording companies had not made the required revenue payments from foreign audio streams, ringbacks, and foreign non-permanent downloads. Attempts to reconcile the issues outside of court have gone on for several months to no avail.
This is the fifth lawsuit filed against major media corporations for contract violations in the past few months. Under Hair’s leadership, AFM has begun to aggressively enforce existing contracts and stand up to large corporations that fail to pay musicians when their work is reused or offshored.
The suit seeks payment for all missing revenue owed the AFM Pension Fund, late payment penalties, interest, damages and legal costs.
Uber is trying to quash a class-action suit by drivers who claim they are employees and not independent contractors. The company claims the more than 160,000 American drivers control their own use of the Uber app and are therefore contractors. While the California Labor Commission has said that Uber drivers are employees and not contractors, the chair of New York City’s Taxi and Limousine Commission says her agency considers drivers for ride-hailing services such as Uber to be freelance workers, not employees. Five other states have ruled similarly. Classifying Uber drivers as employees would mean higher costs for the company, as it would likely need to pay Social Security, workers’ compensation, and unemployment insurance.
This month US District Judge John Kronstadt rejected arguments over expert witness testimony and jury instructions and denied a bid for a new trial, in the wake of the “Blurred Lines” jury verdict against Pharrell Williams & Robin Thicke. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the judge accepted the Gaye family’s contention that record labels should be held liable for their distribution of a song that was found to be a copy of Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up,” plus ruled rapper T.I. Harris Jr. who contributed a verse on the blockbuster “Blurred Lines” song a copyright infringer. Though the judge denied the family’s request that the song be removed from distribution, he did grant a request for an ongoing royalty rate of 50% of songwriter and publishing revenues. Kronstadt did reduce the damages from $4 million to just under $3.2 million, which reduced the jury’s verdict from $7.4 million to $5.3 million. Williams will now have to turn over about $358,000 in profits, rather than $1.6 million. Next Thicke and Williams will most likely bring the dispute to appeals court.
This week the AFM filed suit against Paramount Pictures, Inc. for recording the score to the film Same Kind of Different As Me in Slovakia. The complaint claims the film studio breached its collective bargaining agreement with musicians that required Paramount films produced in the US or Canada to be scored in the US or Canada.
“Only weeks after we filed suit against Paramount for offshoring jobs in other films, they did it again. This total disrespect for musicians is shameful. It is nothing more than corporate greed,” says AFM President Ray Hair. In May the Federation sued six studios, including Paramount, for offshoring jobs for other films. The AFM is seeking breach of contract damages, including wages and benefits that should have been paid to musicians.
Same Kind of Different As Me, directed by Michael Carney and starring Renée Zellweger, Greg Kinnear, and Jon Voight, was filmed in Mississippi, but scored in Bratislava, Sovakia, last month. It is scheduled for release in April 2016. According to Hair, such offshoring of scores allows film producers to drive profits up at the expense of North American musicians.
You can read the full complaint at: www.afm.org/uploads/file/public_pdf/SKODAM_Complaint-Court-Stamped.pdf.
The AFM is suing six major studios (Columbia, Paramount, Twentieth Century Fox, Universal, Walt Disney, and Warner Brothers) for reusing film soundtrack clips in other films and television programs without appropriately compensating musicians.
“Our agreements obligate the studios to make additional payments to musicians when soundtracks are reused and AFM members are entitled to receive the benefit of that bargain,” says AFM President Ray Hair. “Our efforts to resolve these contract violations and missing payments have been unproductive, so we are looking to the courts for relief.”
The lawsuit cites numerous examples of the studios violating their collective bargaining agreements by reusing film scores without paying musicians including:
- Columbia using music from Karate Kid in an episode of the television series Happy Endings;
- Disney using music from Beauty and the Beast and The Muppet Movie in the television series The Neighbors;
- Fox using music from Titanic in the film This Means War;
- Paramount using music from Up in the Air in the film Follow Me: The Yoni Netanyahu Story;
- Universal using music from Bourne Identity in the television series The Office; and
- Warner Brothers using music from Battle for the Planet of the Apes in the film Argo.
In the lawsuit the AFM is seeking damages for all losses, including prejudgment interest. You can read the entire complaint on the AFM website.
The National Music Publishers’ Association has filed a copyright infringement suit against Wolfgang’s Vault on behalf of several music publishers. Wolfgang’s Vault disseminates concert videos and audio recordings through multiple websites, including ConcertVault.com, Daytrotter.com and MusicVault.com, as well as YouTube.
Wolfgang’s Vault claims to hold the “largest collection of live audio and video recordings online,” however much of the content is not properly licensed. Their websites attract around 50,000 visitors per day.
“The Wolfgang’s Vault websites have profited in large part because of the significant use of unlicensed music, primarily concert footage, available on their sites,” says David Israelite, President & CEO of NMPA. “Systematic copyright infringement cannot be a business model, and it is unfortunate that Wolfgang’s Vault chose not to compensate all of the creators responsible for their content. Hopefully, this lawsuit will bring publishers and many iconic songwriters the revenue they deserve for the use of their music.”
The lawsuit is part of NMPA’s continuing effort to ensure songwriters and their music publishing partners are compensated fairly and that their rights are protected. Members of NMPA have settled claims of copyright infringement with Maker Studios and Fullscreen, both large Multi-Channel Networks on YouTube. These settlements enabled music publishers and songwriters to be compensated for past copyright infringements and license works going forward.