Recording Musicians Sue AFM, Local 47 Over Video Game Buyout Work Dues

Film Music Magazine • April 22, 2008

Three Los Angeles recording musicians have filed a federal lawsuit against the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) and AFM Local 47 in Los Angeles alleging that work dues paid by recording musicians to the AFM for its new one-off video game buyout recording agreements should be returned to Local 47. The attorney for the musicians told Film Music Magazine today that his clients are seeking to expand the lawsuit into a class action lawsuit on behalf of all musicians who paid work dues under these agreements.

Recording musicians David Parameter, Anatoly Rosinsky and Andrew Shulman allege that work dues collected from musicians by Local 47 and sent to the AFM should be returned to Local 47 for work done under one-off buyout recording agreements made available to video game companies by the AFM, citing an AFM by-law that states that work dues are due only for “negotiated agreements.” The musicians claim that the video game agreements were not negotiated and ratified by the membership, and therefore should not be subject to work dues.

The AFM has responded in court documents that the video game agreements, while not ratified by the membership of the AFM, are not “non-negotiated” within the meaning of its bylaws and denies any obligation to account for or refund to Local 47 dues paid by Local 47 to the AFM for work done under the agreements.

The plaintiff musicians point to a January, 2007 letter issued by AFM attorney Jeffrey Freund in response to attorney Michael Posner representing Recording Musicians Associations (RMA) International President Phil Ayling, that states that the AFM buyout video game agreement in question, “…was not negotiated with any employer; it was simply created by the IEB [AFM International Executive Board] and made available to any employer in the video game industry who desires to score a video game with union musicians.” In their suit, the musicians point to Section 32 of Article 9 of the AFM bylaws claiming that the video game agreements are not “negotiated agreements” within the meaning of those bylaws.

While an October, 2007 article in The Hollywood Reporter said the RMA-LA “is demanding its parent organization, the American Federation of Musicians, refund more than $1 million dollars in work dues the local group claims it was improperly charged,” and an online news article at http://www.afm143.org describes the current lawsuit as between “the RMA and the AFM,” plaintiff musicians’ attorney Michael Posner told Film Music Magazine today that the RMA and its international President Phil Ayling are not parties to the current lawsuit. Ayling and RMA-LA President Pete Anthony did not respond to requests for comment for this article.

In a statement to Film Music Magazine, AFM President Tom Lee said, “It is regrettable that individuals have been convinced to go down this path. The AFM hopes that cooler minds will prevail and this ill advised action will be abandoned so that we can concentrate our efforts on matters of greater concern to a wider group of musicians throughout the US and Canada. We need to focus our efforts on passing the performance rights bill which will benefit musicians in the United States. Piracy, intellectual property matters, tax law, social security reform, and health insurance are all items that may be before Congress and each will have a collective impact on a large group of AFM members and their families. We urge these individuals who filed the lawsuit to join the huge majority of their brothers and sisters in working for positive change that will affect a greater number of our members instead of taking negative action which ultimately threatens the welfare of our members.”

Local 47 attorney Lewis Levy told Film Music Magazine, “Local 47 is vigorously protecting its rights in the litigation and expects to be fully vindicated when the matter is concluded.”

The lawsuit is the latest battle in an ongoing dispute between Los Angeles recording musicians and the AFM regarding new buyout agreements that the AFM is offering to employers in an attempt to reduce the amount of recording work that is being done in Seattle, Europe and other non-AFM locations that offer buyout contracts for film, television and video game score recording.

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