Hollywood Studios Sued for Recycling Film Soundtracks Too Much

Jaws (1975)

Before sharks took to the land and sky, one giant great white was enough to scare people from going in the water after seeing this classic Steven Spielberg thriller, starring Richard Dreyfuss and Roy Scheider.

'Tis the season for much discussion about the state of originality in Hollywood. In keeping with this theme, the American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada accused the biggest film and television studios on Tuesday of violating the terms of a collective bargaining agreement by going beyond the allowance for the re-use of previously recorded film soundtracks.

Sony's Columbia Pictures, Viacom's Paramount Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox, Universal City Studios, Walt Disney Pictures and Warner Bros. Entertainments are all defendants in a lawsuit that offers some surprises about how old film music has been recycled in recent years.

For instance, 1 minute and 10 seconds of music from Titanic was allegedly used in This Means War; 47 seconds of music from Die Hard and 30 seconds of music from The Bourne Identity was allegedly used in episodes of The Office; 18 seconds of music from Jaws was allegedly used in Little Fockers; 33 seconds of music from Cast Away was used in Bridesmaids; 35 seconds of music from Battle for the Planet of the Apes was used in Argo ... and so forth. (The complaint below has more examples.)

According to the American Federation of Musicians, producers agree in guild agreements that "all music sound track already recorded ... will not be used at any time for any purpose whatsoever except to accompany the picture for which the music sound track was originally prepared.”

The 2010 Agreement permits limited exceptions, adds the lawsuit, such as up to two minutes of an "un-synced clip," provided payments are made under certain circumstances.

The complaint filed in California federal court details the alleged failings of each of the studios to live up the agreement. For example, Fox is charged with going above 2 minutes is use of music from The Taking of Pelham 123 for the film Knight & Day while failing to make appropriate payments for use of Titanic music in some of its other films. Fox also allegedly licensed music from Thin Red Line and Die Hard to non-signatories to the guild agreement. Fox says it hasn't reviewed the complaint yet and can't comment.

The plaintiff, represented by Lewis Levy, requests damages for breaches of contract.

The American Federation of Musicians has become more aggressive in court lately. In April, the guild sued the studios for allegedly breaching the guild agreement by recording film scores outside the United States and Canada.