Saturday, November 29, 2008

Moral Rights Of Composers- The Missing Cornerstone - Part 1

Moral Rights or globally known as, droits moraux, is a special right held by artists that is irrevocable, though can in some places be waived, to it's creations regardless of other transferable economic rights (copyrights). These rights include;

-The right to claim authorship of a work.
-The right to have a work published anonymously or pseudonymously.
-The right to the integrity of the work preventing alteration, distortion or mutilation.
-The right to prevent the use of one's name on any work the author did not create.
-The right to object to derogatory action in relation to their work, which would be prejudicial to the author’s honor or reputation.

There are other rights depending on the country but these are the basic ones.

Under US federal law, though a carter of The Berne Convention, Moral Rights are not recognized with the exception of The Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 (VARA), which gives limited rights to visual artists. The definition, under US copyright code, of a piece of "visual art" is extremely limited to: A ``work of visual art'' includes any painting, drawing, print, sculpture, or still photographic image produced for exhibition purposes, produced in a single copy or an edition of 200 or fewer if signed and consecutively numbered by the artist. 17 U.S.C. 101 (1990).
VARA specifically exclud
es works for hire, motion pictures and other audiovisual works, and works of applied art.

VARA is very important for a number of reason, most significantly is the admission that there are rights outside of the economic world. Prior to VARA the consensus in Washington was that the copyright laws and trademark rights within the
Lanham Act and other laws, covered the issues covered at the Berne Convention. This is of course not true and that all rights on the books up until VARA were transferable and part of the economic arena.

Why would law makers object in principal to Moral Rights? Taking lobbyists out of the equation, those politicians with Freedman-ite economic philosophy probably see Moral Rights as a distortion within Free Trade principals. So, if a widget is a widget than it is only a widget and Moral Rights would impede economic commerce of art.

So what does all of this talk about Moral Rights that the US does not recognize and VARA have to do with us as film composers? Not much but the proposal of a Composers Rights Act, even if it excludes works for hire, would go a long way towards providing a cornerstone that can be built upon later on.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Composer Union - Why Now

So, why start talking seriously about composers unionizing?

You mean besides, why not? or It's about time!

Why? because there is the potential of it actually happening. For those who did not follow the election (I've been guilty of that in the past) or those who might have but not looked below the surface of what this candidates represented....well, this might be the most progressive president we will have since I've been alive.

I think that the common definition on a Progressive would be a liberal who acts.

One of the key components of the Progressive agenda is Labor. The key implementation of supporting Labor is court appointments. Judges that will actually uphold the laws already on the books.

So if there are, hopefully, many Labor-friendly court appointments, than the effort of composers to organize is that much more realistic.

How will we know if this mood is out there. That labor is favored in the courts? I would guess there will be a bell-weather organization effort that could not happen under two circumstances. One, the organization of service workers in 'big box stores' or the unionization of Japanese auto plants in the US. If the stock boy at Home Depot is being offered to be in a union, then composers should act as well. (and realistically now should be the time to research what has gone wrong in the past)

On the eve of Sundace annoucements

For those who are 'in the know' it's about the time that filmmakers who submitted to Sundance find out if their film made it into the festival. The lucky ones that get in are contact usually about 7 - 10 days before the announcements so that they can gear up for any PR that might come with 'being chosen'

This year I had 3 films submitted that I worked on. I 100% know that one doesn't have a chance but the other two do. They do because they are just better than your average indie flick but they are missing that Sundacey mojo. These films are not about odd sexual behavior, drug abuse and they lack the slow/depressing power duo that make arthouse films. They just have a solid story, acted well, shot very well, edited very well and of course have scored that really are great.

I'll be a little depressed if one of the two don't make it. Less for myself, I've been to park city twice already, but more for these film makers that are really good, have great vision and could really develop into great filmmakers. If it isn't Sundanc e for them, I really hope Slamdance is there to pick them up!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Unions and Composers for Film - What's Not New

There are quite a number of people that believe that composers for film and TV actually do have a union. There are two main reasons for that: One, there is a Musicians Union (AFM). Two there are Performing Rights Organizations that collect royalties on public performances. In the US they are ASCAP, BMI and SESAC.

Nothing can be more telling than the experience I had while attending parties at the Sundance Film Festival. Now there are two things I should mention. A large amount of people at these parties are on their way up in the film biz or they have made at least one film that brought them to Sundance and even a larger portion have made many films. ASCAP and BMI both have a major presence at the festival. However, at this past year's festival, in January of 2008, while the WGA strike was going, during conversation after conversation the topic of unions would come up and nearly in every conversation that veered towards the topic of unions, I had to correct someone who thought that composers had a union. They either thought that the AFM covered composers or that BMI and ASCAP were unions.

So, if film makers, cast and crew all have the misnomer that composer have a union. What would they think or how would they react if composers tried to unionize?

So, what is the AFM? The American Federation of Musicians, represents musicians, in it's more pure scene of the word, musical performing artists. However, they do represent "non-musicians' as well, most notably, Conductors, Orchestrators and Copyists. The musicians union has four main arenas that it protects: 1. Broadway pit orchestras 2. Local Orchestras 3. Studio musicians 4. Touring popular musicians. Three of these areas are in the realm of live performing musicians and in most cases these people don't actually write the music, an argument could be made for rock bands that write songs as a group no fitting the profile... That leaves studio musicians, and this group would include musicians that play on recording as hired guns and of course there are the musician that play on scores that are for films, TV and video games. And what about those Conductors, Orchestrators and Copyists? Well, these jobs fill in the people employed between the composer for an orchestra, Broadway pit or live musicians.

I'll go more into how the AFM works and how it relates to the world of the film composer in later posts but for now the point is that we know who the AFM covers and who it does not.

Now on to ASCAP, BMI and SESAC.

ASCAP, the American Society of Composers And Publishers, BMI, Broadcast Music Inc., and SESAC, the Society of European Stage Authors & Composers, are all collectively known as PROs,
Performing Rights Organizations. What do they do? They collect royalties on public performances and distribute them to their composers and publishers. These fees are paid by the venues where music is played. The easiest example of venues are theaters, clubs and concert halls. But these also are paid by those who broadcast music, TV networks, radio stations and even cell phones.

For decades the PROs have battled with those who benefit from music on what is Public and what is a Performance. Movie theaters are covered everywhere in the world but the US. More recently Bar owners were successful in lobing Capitol Hill to have their jukeboxes not qualify as a performance. What is covered is TV and the battle for the Internet is still waging.

For the sake of the film or TV composer, PROs do not factor into the actual labor or their work, only after the work is created. Film and TV composers get a cent here and a cent there for their music that is broadcast with a TV show or film.

There are factors that the PROs and the AFM do effect composer in their effort to unionize and
mostly these forces work against the composer but that will be left for another post.

Back into bloging...I hope

OK, so I started this blog and now I feel a new commitment to it. A ton has happened since I last was here, new president, stock market crash, finished a film and started another.

I think for the near future, I want to examine the idea of a composer's union... but I am sure that
I will also rent on about the general business of music and film.