Musicians Union Threatens To Expel Composer If He Doesn't Pay Fine For Unapproved Videogame Work

from the so,-who-protects-members-from-their-representatives? dept

Last summer, the American Federation of Musicians hit videogame composer Austin Wintory (Monaco, Journey) with a $50,000 fine for working on The Banner Saga in violation of its (nonexistent) game music contract. Thanks to the union’s own stubbornness and greed, none of its members were allowed to compose music for videogames. A contract put together in 2012 without the input of AFM’s members was so skewed towards the union that no videogame producers were willing to agree to it. (It wasn’t until 2014 that Microsoft agreed to the terms of AFM’s revamped contract. It remains the sole company to do so.)

When Wintry worked on the game without its permission, AFM got angry and threw its toys out of the crib. Its own Local 47 (Los Angeles) took issue with the union’s BS and issued a resolution supporting Wintory in October. Perhaps due to this internal pressure, the AFM reduced Wintory’s fine to $2,500. Now, it’s threatening to expel Wintory because he hasn’t paid up.

A long-running dispute between video game composer Austin Wintory and his union, the American Federation of Musicians, has come to a head this week: Variety reports that Wintory has refused to pay a $2,500 fine imposed by the AFM for his non-union work as a composer on The Banner Saga.

The union has threatened to expel him if he doesn’t pay up by January 19th. Wintory is investigating his legal options to combat such a decision, and has offered to write a $2,500 check to the L.A.-based Education Through Music charity in lieu of paying the union fine.

Wintory is weighing his options. A good one would seem to be telling AFM where to stick its toys (and contracts) and ditching the union altogether. But that can have an adverse effect on finding work in other union-heavy industries, like movies and regular, old non-videogame music. These entities tend to require the hiring of union members, so the lack of an AFM card could keep Wintory from being hired should he choose to branch out.

Other AFM members have worked around the union’s stupid videogame contract by recording in Nashville (Tennessee is a right-to-work state) or overseas. Wintory incensed his “representatives” by ditching Los Angeles — an area it firmly controls — in favor of London, which was cheaper, didn’t hit the game’s producer for additional “future use” fees and didn’t force anyone to adhere to a one-sided contract. So, it’s still out to get its pound of flesh in hopes of discouraging other members from bypassing the contract they were never given the chance to agree to.

In true AFM fashion, it is implementing another contract and letting its members know the specifics after the fact.

Meanwhile, the Recording Musicians Association (RMA), the “player conference” within the AFM that represents many studio musicians, announced over the weekend that the union had concluded negotiations with the AMPTP on a new multiyear contract for recording TV and film scores.

Details of the pact, however, were being kept under wraps Sunday. Musicians are expected to be informed of the details late Monday during meetings of the RMA and Local 47 membership.

So, who’s working for who? Unions are supposed to represent their members. That’s why members pay fees. AFM seems to genuinely have no concern about the well-being of its artists. (It doesn’t care much for the general public either.) It fines them when they seek to do work they’ve been locked out of by a contract they never wanted and it keeps its negotiations with other entities secret until the ink has dried on all the signatures — none of which belong to the members supposedly being “represented.”

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Companies: afm, american federation of musicians

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Comments on “Musicians Union Threatens To Expel Composer If He Doesn't Pay Fine For Unapproved Videogame Work”

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30 Comments
PaulT (profile) says:

“Thanks to the union’s own stubbornness and greed, none of its members were allowed to compose music for videogames. A contract put together in 2012 without the input of AFM’s members was so skewed towards the union that no videogame producers were willing to agree to it.”

What I don’t get is why whatever contract they had in force before this new one was written is not in force until the new one was negotiated. They literally refuse to allow their members to accept any employment in a multi-billion dollar industry while they’re negotiating? Madness.

Get off my cyber-lawn! (profile) says:

This seems a lot like another business model we know...

1) “You know, it would be a shame if something bad happened to you so why don’t you pay us a monthly ‘protection’ fee”

2) “You know, we are the ONLY people you really want to be doing business with ‘IF YA KNOW WHAT I MEAN'”

3) “Here’s an offer you can’t refuse….no seriously! Just shaddup, don’t read the fine print and sign on the line. OR ELSE”

Are they going to find Jimmy Hoffa buried in someone’s Cello case?

mcinsand (profile) says:

on a semi-tangential note

A group working to overturn the Citizens United ruling held a AMA a few days ago, and I’ve wondered if unions might play a valuable role in that. *IF* we allow corporations to continue to hold ‘person’ status, then we might have an issue with the unequal protection clause of the Constitution. After all, if they are truly persons, then they should have the ability to bargain collectively just as you or I would. However, when corporations engage in such practices, that is price fixing, and people… real people with blood in their veins… go to jail. To me, the union angle just seems like a good tack to force the issue to a resolution, lest we have something like the union of ISP’s setting national pricing on internet access (as if we don’t effectively have that now).

Anonymous Coward says:

Cry me a river...

I am sick and tired of people that get all prissy about these union deal.

They signed up for it, he should have read the contract and obeyed. When you sell your soul to the devil, don’t cry when he takes it from you when you did not expect it!!!

Same reason I do not feel sorry one bit for musicians that sell their souls to the producers. Funny right? The musicians is the one that produces the music but is not considered a producer. He deserves every last smacking penny he owes and I hope he get his shorts sued right the hell off. Maybe then people will learn that just because Union is a part of an organizations names does not mean they any less corrupt than the turds they claim to “help” protect you from!!!

housh (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Cry me a river...

I simply don’t understand your sentiment toward Wintory.

The AFM created an incredibly unfair contract which was not agreed to by anyone, and in a pissfit froze all members’ ability to find work save by defecting from the union altogether. He could easily leave and find non-union work (he’s an incredible composer), but Wintory believes in the union and its ability to be a force of good, and feels he can only effect change while still being a member.

Why should Wintory be made to feel like the enemy, here? He joined the AFM to have a chance to collaborate with great musicians, and is instead being hamstrung by the very organization that should be focusing on bringing great musicians together and not tearing them apart.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Cry me a river...

This part apparently:

Meanwhile, the Recording Musicians Association (RMA), the “player conference” within the AFM that represents many studio musicians, announced over the weekend that the union had concluded negotiations with the AMPTP on a new multiyear contract for recording TV and film scores.

Details of the pact, however, were being kept under wraps Sunday. Musicians are expected to be informed of the details late Monday during meetings of the RMA and Local 47 membership.

The union was negotiating completely without the input of the people it is supposedly ‘representing’, and is only telling them the details of the contract they are now expected to be bound to after it’s already been finalized.

At that point good luck getting any of the terms changed, they’ll be faced with either leaving the union, and being locked out of any job that, due to fear of the union, will not hire non-union musicians, or ‘agreeing’ to the terms of their new ‘contract’.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Cry me a river...

Yeah, yeah blame the victim. So much easier than addressing the actual problems.

“the lack of an AFM card could keep Wintory from being hired”

He joined so that he could find some work, and then a contract he didn’t agree to prevented him from other work. He was screwed either way but he didn’t know that at the time. But, it’s his fault for choosing, right?

“The musicians is the one that produces the music but is
not considered a producer.”

Words mean things. Producer does not mean what you think it means in this context.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Cry me a river...

So what you are saying is, people should not be held responsible for their decisions?

The problem with the music industry is well known… well DAMN KNOWN… so there are not a lot of excuses people can offer up other than… I feel like a lost and trapped victim and I am stuck. Cry for me please!

Sounds like there needs to be a Union against the Union… ha ha ha… go figure right?

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Cry me a river...

“So what you are saying is, people should not be held responsible for their decisions?”

No, although I believe I might say that logical thought isn’t exactly your strong suit.

I’m saying that if the conditions of gaining certain employment required him to be a member of this union, then he made the choice he had to. I’m saying that you should be blaming the people responsible for the bad decisions, not the guy who had to abide by impossible rules just to try and get a regular income. I’m saying that attacking him doesn’t change the fact that there are certain jobs that require membership, however bad that might be.

It’s like when musicians sign up for major labels. Today, I have no sympathy because there are so many other choices and so much documentation on how bad those deals are. But, 30 years ago when there were very few options and most had little idea of what the labels were actually like? Sure, I won’t blame them for that decision. The decision this guy had to make is closer to the latter.

Clear, or do you still want to blame the victim?

Anonymous Coward says:

Remember "donning & doffing"?

That was a union ‘negotiation’, too.

(For those that didn’t hear: union steel shop required safety clothing to be ‘donned & doffed’ on site, but union agreed this time was not compensable. Employees sued the employer; case went all the way to SCOTUS which sided with employer. Turns out US law gives precedence to collective bargaining agreements; thus SCOTUS was legally correct.)

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Given they wrote up a contract that was so bad, so incredibly one-sided, that every single company presented with it refused to agree to it, leaving the union musicians screwed, yeah, I’d say they qualify as a ‘bad union’.

Of course there’s also the ‘You dared to try and put food on your table by working a non-union job, you owe us $50,000’ threat leveled against a member of the union, that might be a good indication of a bad union as well, just maybe.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I can understand the fining people for taking non-union work part, since even with a good union that will inevitably undermine the bargaining power they have on behalf of their members – which is kind of the point of a union in the first place. If union members routinely work outside the union, often for less pay and benefits, then why would anyone deal with the union and extra protection (and expense) they represent in the first place?

It just gets silly when they’ve literally left its members unable to work in an entire multi-billion dollar industry without being subjected to the fine.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Yeah, a fine for weakening the position of the union might have been reasonable, if the other musicians were able to find work, as that would be threatening the work of the other musicians in the union.

The problem was the union basically made it so their members had to find work outside the union, because the contract the union wrote up was bad enough that no-one was willing to hire from the union.

The union created a situation where their members had to violate the union rules if they wanted to find a job, at that point issuing a fine is just ridiculous.

That One Guy (profile) says:

For the curious

According to the musician in question, via the YT comments, this is what he believes were the sticking points, and why the deal was so completely rejected by the game publishers:

“What contract terms did the game industry find unacceptable?”
>> The shortest answer to this is that the contract is not a buyout. It mandates two types of back-end payments: Royalties (called “Secondary market” payments) and re-use fees.

A secondary market-based royalty is rejected by the game industry because there is no secondary market. In film, if you’re released in theaters the subsequent DVD release would be the secondary market, and AFM musicians (under the motion picture contracts) make 1% of those secondary market grosses. But games sales are the one-stop transaction. One might try to argue that ports or remasters are secondary markets, but I’d actually disagree. More like parallel primary markets. There is no equivalent in games to a film coming out in theaters and then, say, airing on cable a year later. As a result, the upfront risk for game studios is MUCH HIGHER than for film companies because all their eggs end up in one basket (this is a definite weakness in the business structure of the game industry, as reported by the rampant post-released layoffs lately). Given that there are many, many viable options for royalty-free recording (including very high-end expensive options in London which are regularly used), there is no need to for publishers to deepen their already-huge risk so they refuse to accept these mandatory royalties.

Re-use fees are payments made to the players if the music is taken out of its original context and reused somewhere. So if, say, I wrote a theme for The Banner Saga and then a TV show heard it, liked it and decided to license it for their show. Under AFM contracts, this constitutes a re-use fee and the musicians all get paid get (which by necessity drives the cost of the license sky-high, especially for big orchestral works featuring many musicians). The game industry often creates sequels, DLC, and other ancillary works for their games and re-usage of the music across any of those would incur re-use fees. This makes it cost prohibitive for them, and makes no sense to accept given a wide variety of viable recording options elsewhere.

**

So basically, if I’m reading that right, the union was wanting to treat music used in games, the same as music used in movies and shows, and was told rather firmly ‘No’, given the differences between the two.

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