Movie Makers Must ‘Pay the Piper’

Judge Stephen Trott
Judge Stephen Trott (via 9th Circuit Blog)

Boy, did the movie industry get the wrong appeals judge to decide a case over disputed pay for movie musicians.  Judge Stephen Trott, prior to his judicial career, was a member of the original 1960s folk group The Highwaymen, of “Michael Row the Boat Ashore” fame.  (seen here.)

 The Film Musicians Secondary Markets Fund sued various film production companies and secondary market film distributors after the companies failed to pay owed residuals to musicians who performed on film soundtracks in violation of a collective bargaining agreement.

 U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson sanctioned the film companies $1.1 million for egregious violation of discovery rules.  In fact, he found it so bad he ordered a default judgment, meaning their case is over.

The companies challenged the validity of the order and drew Judge Trott, along with Judges Robert Beezer and Pamela Rymer to hear the case.

 Trott wrote the opinion and he was not amused.

The Musicians Fund was created from a deal with the movie industry to pay musicians deferred wages based on the revenue in the secondary market of films, known as residuals, that come after initial release of a movie.

The movie industry and secondary market distributors agree to keep records and the musicians have the right to inspect them, but musicians are at the mercy of the film companies’ willingness to comply with the deal, according to Tott.

It is something the companies “appear to have ignored,” he wrote.

The musicians began trying to collect from Nu Image, Inc. back in 2004 but were generally ignored.

Two companies, “Dog Watch” and “Breakstreet”, failed to show up for initial court meetings in 2005 as required by court rules.  This set the default ball rolling.

It just got worse when the defendants in the case failed to produce documents to comply with court orders, according to the opinion.

In 2006, Judge Manny Real, who was originally assigned to the case, found the defendants “deliberately and willfully” engaged in discovery abuse and attempted to “stall and block progress of this action” as well as “willfully” disobeying court orders. 

When the movie companies assigned a new lawyer who had a relationship, Real stepped off the case and it was reassigned to Wilson.

Wilson reexamined the issues and agreed with Real and ordered the $1.1 million default judgment.

 Trott wrote, “The companies ignored their clear responsibilities [under the contract] and now they must pay the piper.”

 Case:  Dreith v. Nu Image, Inc., No. 10-55172

Photo: Thanks to The Ninth Circuit Blog

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