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SAG settles foreign-royalty dispute with actors

$7.9 mil will be distributed; suit was brought by Ken Osmond

SAG has settled a long-running class action lawsuit brought by Ken Osmond (Eddie Haskell on TV's "Leave It to Beaver") that will mean the distribution of $7.9 million in royalties to actors on movies and TV series that have played in a number of European countries.

SAG is the last of the major guilds to settle similar suits; the WGA settled in 2006 and the DGA in 2008. A tentative settlement was reached in this case last month.

SAG has already distributed about $8.4 million to its affected members since 2007 and has invested in a computer system to process the additional payments. The money was collected as royalties on blank videotape, DVDs, recording equipment and cable TV retransmission fees to compensate authors and performers whose work was recorded or distributed using electronic means.

The money is shared equally among the principal cast members in each movie or TV show and is not determined by how much each person made, as with residuals. The reason is that some shows, especially older programs, make it difficult to determine the payments based on compensation. The typical payments will be less than $50, with a minimum requirement of $10 to trigger the cutting of a check.

SAG had been negotiating agreements with the privately controlled royalty societies and has made agreements in about nine countries so far, including Germany, France and the Scandinavian nations. Efforts continue in other countries and in the U.K.

Osmond and other plaintiffs had questioned whether SAG properly and promptly distributed the royalties. In agreeing to the settlement, SAG did not admit guilt or acting improperly; it said it is happy to distribute the money now that it has the systems in place to do so.

"Although we vehemently dispute the fundamental premise of the litigation," SAG general counsel Duncan Crabtree-Ireland said, "we are pleased to have resolved this dispute in its early stages and look forward to continuing our efforts to distribute funds as quickly and efficiently as possible."

Under the settlement, SAG will conduct an independent audit of its foreign royalties program and make the results public. The guild also will advertise in the trades and list on its website the names of performers who have payments coming and have not been found. Going forward, SAG will conduct annual reviews to make sure payments are made.

Under the deal, which is expected to be approved by a L.A. Superior Court judge within 60 days, the lawyers who represented Osmond and other plaintiffs can collect up to $330,000 in legal fees. SAG also gets to keep up to 10% of the funds for its cost to process and distribute the money.