Universal And Fox Sued Over Simpson's Theme Park Ride… By A Musicians' Union

from the if-we-didn't-think-of-it,-it-must-be-illegal dept

The Simpsons has had a long run (perhaps overly so) and, despite being Fox's cash cow for the last quarter century, has never been targeted with a lawsuit. It took the show being turned into a theme park ride to do it and even then, it took over four years from the ride’s debut before something Simpson's-related became suit-worthy.

And it's not about licensing, trademarks, copyright or any of the usual suspects. It's about the music. The Simpson's theme music that runs nonstop from entrance to exit is the problem. While it would seem obvious that the rights would be cleared on an officially licensed theme ride, the American Federation of Musicians says it isn't.

[T]he union is objecting to a Simpsons roller coaster attraction at Universal Studios Theme Park in Hollywood that has been featuring the recorded music soundtrack from the show. The plaintiff union filed the lawsuit in California federal court, alleging that Universal obtained the recording without providing any notice.

According to the complaint, both Fox and Universal are parties to a 2010 agreement with the musicians guild that “include(s) a broad restriction on new uses” of music recorded for TV shows…

The lawsuit states, “Universal's use of music sound track from The Simpsons at its park does not fall within any of the new use exceptions enumerated in Article 8 of the Agreement and, thus, is not an authorized new use under the Agreement.”

As far as statements go, AFM's allegation that Universal's use of the theme music for its ride does not fall within the “defined new uses” is true. It doesn't. Universal's counterclaim, that the use of the soundtrack is “promotional” and therefore, not subject to AFM's royalty demands, could also be considered largely factual. After all, a theme park ride is a giant advertisement for the franchise. But when all the crosstalk dies down, what it really looks like is a royalty grab by AFM, whose contractual language failed to nail down specific rates for use of its music by a theme park attraction.

The filing notes that Fox originally “engaged the professional services of AFM musicians” when recording the theme song. But Universal skipped an important step, at least according to AFM, by putting the theme song to use on the Simpson's ride without notifying the union. Why should AFM been notified? It's tough to say. From the lengthy listing of various permutations that should result in a royalty payment to AFM, it appears the musicians' union feels it should be involved even in situations the contract never directly addresses.

Because Universal, with Fox's permission, used Simpson's theme music to soundtrack an amusement park ride, AFM feels it should get paid (again). But it seems to have no standing based on the quoted contractual wording. Universal's use of the soundtrack doesn't fit into the “PAY UP” bin and, according to AFM, it doesn't fit into the “EXCEPTIONS” bin, either. Unable to pin down exactly why Universal should be paying more royalties, AFM instead recasts this “new” usage as a violation of its members' rights, accusing Univeral of “breach of labor agreement.”

Not paying for something no one's asked for (yet) is hardly “breach of contract.” Universal's claim that the use is “promotional” puts it back in compliance with the contract, but AFM doesn't want Universal in compliance… or at least not under that heading, which would result in no further royalty payments. Instead AFM has asked for an injunction against Universal to prevent it from further “exploiting” the Simpson's music and is suing both Fox and Universal for “breach of contract” and any owed royalties. And all of this over a development AFM didn't see coming: a theme park ride.

Considering the principals involved in this suit are IP-behemoths Fox and Universal, it's hard to believe that either of the companies deliberately avoided running this plan past AFM simply to avoid paying some royalties. Sure, Universal's music arm has this problem, but this case deals with one of Fox's most successful IPs turning into a theme park attraction with Universal's expertise on that end. Some IP was transferred from Fox to Universal, presumably to cross all t's and dot all i's. This lawsuit, coming as it does more than four years after the ride's debut, feels more like some overactive lawyering/rent-seeking rather than a case of deliberate shafting by Fox and Universal. 

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Companies: afm, fox, universal

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Comments on “Universal And Fox Sued Over Simpson's Theme Park Ride… By A Musicians' Union”

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Rick Smith (profile) says:

And now for some RIAA finance calculations...

So Fox is guilty of ‘unauthorized’ use of music by lending their buddy Universal some music.

This sounds speciously like Piracy!!!

So the RIAA (or I guess in this case AFM) needs to be filing a lawsuit in order to treat everyone the same, since you know corporations are people too. By RIAA math, we have 4 years of usage for say 225 days a year, for 12 hours a day, with the song played every 2 minutes or so. So we are looking at them stealing our music 324,000 times with a fine rate of $250,000 per infraction, bring the total bill to 81,000,000,000 (81 Billion).

So now I think we have the RIAA’s problem solved. See all of that lost revenue is not from the everyday average Joe pirate; but from their own industry (entertainment) blatantly stealing and sponging off their hard work. If Universal and Fox had only paid the proper royalties then the music industry would never have had to lay off workers, and there might even have been enough money left over after the music execs got their pittance, that even the musicians may have gotten a few bucks.

Only thing left to say is Doh!!!

Next up, how to solve world hunger by handing out moon cheese and not make it a socialist program, so Bubba in Louisiana feels good about God, Country, and Capitalism.

Ninja (profile) says:


That. It’s interesting that the spell turned against the spell caster here. The MAFIAAs are usually the ones trying to get something paid over and over again. Greed at its finest if u ask me. Still, in this specific case we are talking about commercial exploitation of the song so it seems reasonable to me that there should be some sort of compensation. The biggest issue is that since copyright allows for the creator to hand in their rights you can’t possibly know who owns what. And to make things worse, the thing is so broken that the owner of the rights (I’d guess Universal now holds the rights yes?) has to pay some unneeded and greedy collection organization to use their own stuff.

I can only forgive those that fell into madness by dealing with this system.

dennis deems says:

Re: Re-record the song

That was my first thought as well, but on reflection I suspect Universal has an agreement with the union that prevents them using non-union musicians. But I think it would be a bad idea even if they could do it. It’s in Universal’s best interests to maintain good relations with the union, because these mega entertainment organizations simply couldn’t function without it. They need to be able to get dozens of musicians into a studio any time they want, to record a score, which means it must be performed flawlessly with minimal (if any) rehearsal. Musicians who can sight-read flawlessly aren’t a dime a dozen. That’s why there’s a union in the first place.

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