Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Studios slip on AFTRA clip trip

AFTRA leaders want consent for online video use

By Dave McNary VARIETY

In a surprise development, AFTRA has joined the Screen Actors Guild in declaring that actors must still be asked for their consent for clips of their work to be used online.

With both performers unions putting their feet down on the clips issue, Monday's announcement probably means the town's ongoing uncertainty over labor will linger for the foreseeable future.

"A resolution may not be quick or easy," warned AFTRA president Roberta Reardon in a message to members.

The move by the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists came as its prime time negotiations with the majors were in their ninth day amid a news blackout. Talks will resume this morning.

With the AFTRA contract covering only seven shows and the union perceived as being far more pragmatic than SAG, many had expected AFTRA to have wrapped a deal by now. Instead, Reardon disclosed that her union won't budge on the consent issue -- a stance mirroring SAG's position at its feature-prime time talks, even though the two performers unions have been at war with each other and are negotiating separately for the first time in three decades on this contract.

Notably, she also praised SAG for its "respect and courtesy" in sharing details with AFTRA from the guild's 18 days of negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers. The AMPTP had no immediate response.

Reardon characterized AFTRA's talks with the AMPTP as professional and businesslike before diving into detail about the clip issue.

"We've already delivered a strong message that performers will not relinquish consent for excerpts in new media, which would compromise the integrity of members' work, their reputations or their employability in scripted programming," Reardon said. "The negotiating committee is also mindful of the hard realities affecting the television business today -- including audience fragmentation, piracy and the other complexities arising out of the fast-evolving new-media landscape -- and the impact this has on the wages and job opportunities for working performers."

Studios and broadcast networks can use clips for promotional purposes but are required to negotiate with the performers when the clips are used for entertainment. The companies are seeking to develop a market for clips to compete with pirated footage on the Web but assert that being required to seek individual approval from thesps would be so cumbersome as to preclude the feasibility of the business model.

Essentially, the congloms are telling the performers unions that the only way that actors can retain any control -- and make any money -- over reuse of clips online is by removing the consent requirement.

But Reardon contended that, with safeguards, the industry can "satisfy and profit" from consumers' desire to access content legitimately rather than through piracy. And she hinted that AFTRA's open to new approaches on the clips issue.

"There are no easy solutions, which means that our negotiating committee must be both innovative and pragmatic, and the industry must also embrace a realistic approach," Reardon added. "Given the rapid changes around us, we cannot afford to waste any time chasing rainbows. Our obligations to AFTRA members requires us to be focused, firm and solutions-minded in order to effectively ensure that working performers have a fair and realistic chance to participate in the future of the television industry."

Both AFTRA's and SAG's deals expire June 30.

In a recent SAG website video posting, national exec director Doug Allen stressed that actors have had the right of refusal on clip reuse in traditional media for 50 years. He called it "one of the real boulders in the road" that the two sides need to traverse in order to reach a deal.

SAG's contract talks recessed May 6 despite objections from the guild that a deal was within reach. The congloms disagreed with that assessment and insisted they were obliged to launch the twice-delayed negotiations with AFTRA, which opened the next day.

SAG's scheduled to be back at negotiations no later than May 28.

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