The American Federation of Musicians, the labor union that represents many of the performers who work on the music for Hollywood’s TV shows and movies, has issued a lawsuit against several major studios, accusing them of reusing portions of old soundtracks without paying the original artists. The suit, brought by attorney Lewis Levy, accuses Warner Bros., Paramount, Columbia, 20th Century Fox, Universal City Studios, and Walt Disney Pictures of breaking a 2010 agreement on soundtrack usage, with violations ranging from the use of the Jaws theme in Universal’s Little Fockers, to The Office’s Michael Scott lifting the soundtrack for his magnum opus, Threat Level Midnight, from The Bourne Identity.
Essentially, the AFM’s claim is that its contract with the studios guarantees union members the right to compensation for any usage of their existing soundtracks, whether that comes in the form of the Jaws strings playing while Barbra Streisand silently stalks Robert De Niro with murder in her heart (or whatever it is that happens in Little Fockers), or a character watching Die Hard on TV. (The agreement does distinguish between “synced” clips, where the soundtrack is played along with its original footage, and “un-synced” ones, where it’s used on its own, but both require some level of compensation.)
Given that the amounts that the AFM is charging—up to $3,000 for un-synced clips, or $1,500 for synced—are the movie-studio equivalents of loose change, it seems clear that the lawsuit is largely about making a point. The AFM has been aggressive with these attention-grabbing legal actions lately; in April, the group hit the producers of films like Interstellar and Robocop with a suit for violating an agreement to have domestically produced films scored in North America. It remains to be seen whether the tactic will pay off for the union, or if all your favorite TV characters will just start watching shows and movies with non-domestic soundtracks, instead.