SAG-AFTRA's 2020 Policy Agenda: Trump Taxes, Deepfakes and More

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SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris

The guild is lining up an ambitious slate of national legislative priorities.

Just before Thanksgiving, a SAG-AFTRA envoy left Hollywood for Capitol Hill. The objective: drum up interest about the Performing Artist Tax Parity Act of 2019.

The bill, which was introduced in June by Rep. Judy Chu (D), aims to curb the impact of 2017's Tax Cuts and Jobs Act on entertainers. It would allow single performers making up to $100,000 a year (or $200,000 for those filing jointly) to deduct expenses like agent commissions and headshots without filing through a loan-out company — the cap for the so-called Qualified Performing Artist deduction is currently $16,000 and was set in 1986.

"They never bothered to change it," says Singer Burke tax lawyer Greg Zbylut of the cap. "If you’re making under 16 grand, you’re not eating. You’ve got a nice box under the 5 and you’re not eating." 

The proposed cap would more than make up for inflation, but won't help performers who make more than $100,000 but not enough to justify creating a loan out. (Those filing through a corporate entity can still take the deductions, for now.)

"The last tax law took away the ability of the average rank-and-file creative person, the non-superstars, to deduct some of the costs of doing business," says Jeffrey Eisen, a tax partner at Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp. "The so-called miscellaneous itemized deductions that they may have been able to take under the old tax law were outright banned through the end of 2025." 

The bill is still before the House Ways and Means Committee, which only includes a handful of members from California and New York where most performing artists reside. "It’s going to take a lot of pushing because I’m sure this is not a high-ranking bill for everyone," says Zbylut. "It’s a nice thought, but I don’t think it’s going to pass."

A SAG-AFTRA spokesperson tells The Hollywood Reporter it “strikes the exact right balance” and is one of the guild's top priorities in a big policy year, including:

Streamlining copyright fights. Backing the Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement (CASE) Act is also on the guild's agenda under president Gabrielle Carteris. The bill would effectively establish a small claims court within the U.S. Copyright Office to handle disputes with damages worth $30,000 or less. SAG-AFTRA says the CASE Act offers a faster, cheaper way for creators to fight unauthorized use of their works, while critics warn it could boost business for copyright trolls. Status: Before the Senate after being passed by the House.

Taking its "deepfakes" victory national. The guild is hoping to build momentum following the passage of a deepfakes bill in California, which Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law Oct. 3. It bans nonconsensual digital nudity in the state, effective Jan. 1. Status: Says SAG-AFTRA, "We hope to expand this important regulation to other states in 2020."

Pushing for radio airplay accountability. Following the passage of the Music Modernization Act, which requires that digital radio platforms pay artists to play pre-1972 sound recordings, the guild is advocating for passage of the Ask Musicians for Music Act. AM-FM would require terrestrial radio stations to obtain permission from artists to play their music. Status: The bill was introduced by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D) and Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R) on Nov. 21.

Strengthening worker protections. Worker classification bills, agent regulations, 0-1 visa regulations and child performer protections are also of interest. The union says it "will seek to strengthen rights of publicity, digital image and voice rights, production tax incentives and protections against harassment in the industry."

A version of his story first appeared in the Dec. 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.