Pay-For-Play Could Mean Money For Musicians

Volume CIII, No. 2February, 2003

Mikael Elsila

Rent a movie without leaving your home? As of last fall, that’s now possible. Forget about trudging through the snow to your local video store to rent a tape or DVD. Now you can rent movies by downloading them and watching them on your computer. And the good news for 802 members is that a portion of the money generated by pay-for-play downloads should end up in the the pockets of musicians.

How? Through the Film Fund. Its full name is the Film Musicians Secondary Markets Fund. (Some members might know this fund by its former, even longer name – the Theatrical and Television Motion Picture Special Payments Fund.)

Here’s the deal. Five film studios have started offering movie downloads through the Web. MGM, Paramount, Sony, Warner Brothers and Universal have formed Movielink, the first Web site that will allow users to legally download popular movies.

This could be good news to AFM recording artists. Most recording musicians who do union dates have received checks from the Film Fund as well as the Sound Recording Special Payments Fund every summer. The Sound Recording Fund is made up of money contributed by record labels. But the Film Fund is what would apply in the new pay-for-play movie market.

Producers of AFM covered movies are obligated to contribute 1 percent of gross to the fund of revenues from “supplementary markets.” Supplementary markets include TV (in the case of theatrical films), videotape, DVD, cable, airline in-flight movies (in the case of TV films) – and now the new technology of pay-per-play downloads. And all five of the studios involved in Movielink are signatories to the AFM Basic Theatrical Motion Picture agreement, which means they are required to make contributions to the fund if they generate any revenue.

The rules are complicated and there are many exemptions and qualifications. Musicians who want to know exactly how the Film Fund collects revenue should check out, or contact 802’s Recording Department. But a short example might illustrate how the Film Fund operates.

Let’s say you performed on the soundtrack to the motion picture Spider-Man, released by Columbia last May and subsequently released as a soundtrack album.

You would qualify for payments from both the Film Fund and the Sound Recording Fund. The Sound Recording Fund will pay you based on a lot of factors, including how much money the fund made that year and your total scale wages for sound recording work, including “new-use” wages for the Spider-Man soundtrack album. (Contact the Recording Department at ext. 161 or the Sound Recording Fund at 212-310-9400 for more information.)

But the Film Fund is different. It is based on how well Spider-Man does in supplementary markets. If the new Movielink service sells thousands of downloads of Spider-Man, and grosses $1 million, then the employer will be required to pay 1 percent of $1 million into the fund – or $10,000 (less allowable deductions).

Then, the Film Fund will take all of the money that has come in for Spider-Man, including pay-per-play downloads, videocassettes, DVD’s and the like – and come up with a total. Musicians will receive a check from the fund based on their “wage ratio,” which is how much they originally got paid for the Spider-Man session divided by how much the film paid out in wages altogether for musicians.

So, in a very basic way, if your wages for doing the Spider-Man session were 1 percent of what total musicians’ wages were for the film, then you will receive 1 percent of the money coming in for Spider-Man (less employer taxes and administrative expenses). This is an extreme generalization for purposes of illustration; members are strongly encouraged to contact the Film Fund or the Recording Department for more information.

One reason why the big five movie studios have formed Movie-link is to combat piracy. The truth is that consumers have probably been swapping illegally downloaded first-run movies all over the Internet. But this is just as bad for musicians as it is for the profit-losing studios. As President Moriarity pointed out in his December column, 802 and the AFM have joined a coalition against Internet piracy. When users download copyrighted music or movies, then payments to both the Film Fund and the Sound Recording Fund are thwarted. And musicians get hurt in the end.