Musical theatre connects across cultures. Besides Broadway (here in NYC) and the West End (in London), there is also a big musical theatre scene in Toronto, where many of the musicals that start in London are tried out before coming to Broadway. Several years ago, Jim Biros of AFM Local 149 (Toronto) and David Webster of the British Musicians’ Union (MU) began talking about their mutual concerns, and soon enough it was time to bring Local 802 into the mix. A summit was born.
This year we met in London, and we talked about musical matters beyond theatre. Jim and I had the pleasure of meeting with the MU’s jazz sector committee, where many questions were asked about the status of our Justice for Jazz Artists Campaign. I was happy to show them the impressive list of our endorsers and explained what the basic framework of an eventual agreement could look like. Additionally there was much interest in how Local 802’s hotel agreement deals with third-party booking agents. It seems that we have found another area of the music business where we have common ground.
The last round of discussions focused on electronic media. It was encouraging to know that our various agreements in this area also have more similarities than differences. For some time, we have been given to understand that the MU Motion Picture Agreement doesn’t have provisions for new use or back end payments and is basically a buyout. I was surprised and pleased to learn that payments for traditional new uses like those listed in our motion picture agreement exist in the MU contract as well. It is with respect to back end payments that our agreements diverge – but only in structure. Residual payments for motion picture performances are paid for by the media companies that use them. This is done through guaranteed statutory rights. In England, the law requires the monies to be paid to a collective in order to be distributed to the musicians. So the difference is not a lack of a back end, but rather a different kind of back end. Here in the U.S., one percent of 20 percent of the distributor’s gross is paid to the Film Musicians Secondary Markets Fund, which distributes the money to musicians in proportion to their earnings on each given product.
Just as in the U.S., there is work leaving the country for cheaper places. A lot of work has left the U.K. for Eastern Europe. The problem is that neither the AFM or the MU can compete with such low wages. It is the quality of the product that we must continue to push and sell to producers. Also, it is high time that the United States recognizes the importance of intellectual property rights for performers. We are so very far behind the rest of the world when it comes to performance copyrights for recording musicians, and it is time to pressure our legislators to support and adopt this kind of legislation.