Osmond suit covers foreign levies

A state court judge has given preliminary approval to a proposed settlement in Ken Osmond’s class-action lawsuit over how the Screen Actors Guild’s disburses money collected from foreign tax revenues.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Carl West in a hearing Monday set Jan. 28 for final approval of the settlement. The first notices of the settlement will be sent out Oct. 6 and the deadline for objections and opting out of the settlement is Dec. 15.

SAG general counsel Duncan Crabtree-Ireland said in a court filing last week that the settlement will cover 70,000 to 80,000 individuals.

SAG reached a preliminary agreement five weeks ago to settle Osmond’s 2007 suit over “foreign levies” collected from countries through mechanisms such as taxes on video sales and rentals to compensate copyright holders for reuse. The foreign levies for American creatives began to flow in 1989 after the U.S. agreed to the terms of the Berne Convention, which established the right of authorship for individuals who create works of art.

SAG, the WGA and the DGA began collecting the foreign funds in the early 1990s on behalf of members and nonmembers who had a stake in films and TV programs. Osmond’s suit contends SAG overstepped its authority to make those agreements and never disclosed them until he and Jack Klugman threatened to file suit.

Crabtree-Ireland said in his declaration that SAG has distributed the foreign levies to more than 70,000 individuals. The guild’s asserted that it’s collected $16.37 million, paid out $8.47 million through more than 237,000 individual checks to members — and holds $7.9 million as of Sept. 13.

The agreement between the two sides requires hiring an independent consultant to perform a one-time review of the program and make recommendations to improve the processing of the funds to SAG members. It also provides for an annual review of the program by a Big Four accounting firm; publication of the existence of the program and availability of the funds; and “reasonable efforts” by SAG to pay 90% of the funds to members within three years.

A similar suit on the foreign levies issue was filed in 2005 against the WGA West by William Richert, which was settled earlier this year, and another was filed in 2006 against the DGA by William Webb, who settled in 2008.

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