Suit seeks $500,000 in back pay for union musicians

The American Federation of Musicians has sued the producers of “American Idol,” claiming that “Idol” has repeatedly sold downloads and ringtones of songs without paying the musicians who originally played on those songs.

The suit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court, seeks $500,000 in back pay for the union musicians who played the tunes on the Fox series. Musicians are paid for their initial performance on “Idol,” but AFM contracts call for a repayment for any “new use” of music recorded by union musicians — a standard clause for all TV variety shows.

“Any additional use of the music requires payment,” AFM Local 47 vice president John Acosta said Monday. “This came to our attention in 2008, but they started exploiting (this music) from season four (in 2005),” he said. Local 47, the L.A. local, represents the musicians who perform on “Idol.”

In question, according to the suit, are “digitally encoded audio files containing those soundtracks,” recorded by union musicians but then “sold as songs, some as ringtones, and some as combined audio-visual performances,” without compensation as called for in the AFM’s contract with American Idol Prods.

Also sought by the union are contributions to the union pension fund, interest, attorney fees and payments to the Film Musicians Secondary Markets Fund for “American Idol” video sales that contain song performances.

Acosta said the lawsuit was a last resort after settlement talks failed. “Idol” producers initially offered a settlement of less than 5% of the claim, he said, one eventually raised to about 40%, far less than is called for by the contract.

A spokesman for Fremantle Media, which produces “Idol,” said “We do not comment on pending litigation.”

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