Film Studios in Talks With Musicians Guild to Settle Dispute Over Unoriginal Scores

The parties also are said to be looking at how to avoid future lawsuits.
Courtesy of Everett Collection
20th Century Fox's 'Titanic'

Last year, the American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada went on a bit of a courtroom rampage, suing all of the major studios for allegedly violating the terms of a collective bargaining agreement.

On Tuesday, an attorney representing Paramount, 20th Century Fox, Universal and Warner Bros. reported to a California federal judge that the parties were advancing on a deal that would not only resolve pending litigation, but head off future lawsuits.

The specific lawsuit on the verge of settlement involves AFM's allegations over the recycling of film scores. In May 2015, the guild cited various examples — 1 minute and 10 seconds of music from Titanic used in This Means War, 33 seconds of music from Cast Away used in Bridesmaids, 35 seconds of music from Battle for the Planet of the Apes used in Argo, and so forth — and claimed this was in breach of a no re-use pledge that had only limited exceptions.

The big recent development, though, came in a separate lawsuit brought by AFM against Paramount over another aspect of the collective bargaining agreement. The guild was upset over the forthcoming film Same Kind of Different as Me, which had been scored in Slovakia despite the pledge that movies produced in North America should have music scored locally.

On June 15, Paramount emerged the winner in that lawsuit by convincing a judge that it wasn't the employer of those working on the production. As most films produced in Hollywood operate under single-purpose entities, the decision could open questions about the obligations of co-financing, distributing studios under collective bargaining agreements.

In light of this, a declaration supporting the postponement of deadlines in the AFM lawsuit over re-use of film scores is noteworthy.

Adam Levin, attorney for the studios, writes, "Because the parties have an ongoing collective bargaining relationship outside of litigation, we believe it is important to try to resolve our differences amicably, without the need for further litigation. With that in mind, the parties also are negotiating mechanisms to avoid similar lawsuits in the future."

He adds that the sides have exchanged draft settlement agreement documents, and also that AFM and Disney are engaging in similar settlement negotiations that will result in that studio's dismissal as a defendant.