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Legal News: The Banner Saga composer threatened with $50,000 fine by union

Composer Austin Wintory is facing a $50,000 fine from his union, the American Federation of Musicians. California game lawyer Zachary Strebeck reports on the situation and looks to the future of the union's interaction with game developers.
Unions aren’t often the topic of conversation in video game blog posts, but they are an integral part of the entertainment industry.

Unions aren’t often the topic of conversation in video game blog posts, but they are an integral part of the entertainment industry. Actors, directors, writers and musicians are just some of the many jobs that are governed by unions and collective bargaining agreements.

One member of the American Federation of MusiciansGrammy-nominated composer Austin Wintory is potentially facing a fine of $50,000 from his union for his work on Stoic’s The Banner Saga. Let’s take a look at how this happened.

The American Federation of Musicians:

To date, no video game publishers have become signatories to the new agreement.

The AFM is a union that represents musicians and others in the music field. Membership under the AFM’s collective bargaining means that companies who are signatories must provide certain benefits, such as pension funding, heathcare and overtime pay.

Two years ago, the AFM drafted a new agreement for use in video games and interactive entertainment. To date, no video game publishers have become signatories to the new agreement. Because of this, no AFM member has been allowed to work on the music for a video game since.

Why haven’t they signed on?

Working with union members is more expensive; Wintory notes that recording in Los Angeles would cost twice as much as a non-union job.

According to reports, there were certain provisions that limit what a game company can do with the soundtrack once it is recorded. Working with union members is more expensive; Wintory notes that recording in Los Angeles would cost twice as much as a non-union job in London.

A prior agreement, which was superseded by the 2012 agreement, is described as more friendly to video game producers. Variety reports that some projects are still recording in Los Angeles under the old agreement, since they were “grandfathered in.”

wintory_union_01

What did Austin Wintory do wrong?

Reports indicate that Wintory recorded the music for The Banner Saga in Texas. Texas is a “right to work” state, which means that those in the state cannot be prevented from using non-union workers.

In Wintory’s own words, in a posting on NeoGAF, he says that:

"The violation I’m charged with is breaking the Bylaws, which cite that I can not “perform services (whether as composer, arranger, copyist, proofreader, instrumentalist, leader, contractor, cutter, editor or in any other capacity) for the purpose of producing, editing or dubbing recorded music except where expressly authorized and covered by a contract with the AFM or when expressly authorized by the AFM.”

Now what?

It remains to be seen whether video game companies will sign on with this new agreement.

According to the AFM’s website, they have just drafted a new video game agreement, that will now be voted on by union members. While reports indicate that Microsoft has joined up, it remains to be seen whether other video game companies will sign on with this new agreement. 

As always, if you are beginning a new game development project, why not get a game lawyer on your side? Just contact one for a free consultation.

 

 

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