The history of Bill 983 and Bill 437 begins with two indisputable facts:
- The Southern California entertainment industry is a snake of extremely complex financial transactions, contracts and very creative accounting, which hides behind a facade of brilliance and artistic pretensions.
- Although the industry is only a small part of California’s $ 3.5 trillion economy, its glamorous image has caught the attention of government politicians.
These two facts mean that governors and lawmakers tend to bid on industry figures with a special subsidy for film production from taxpayers in California, just one of many examples.
Sometimes internal disputes in the industry – especially over how to split revenue from movie tickets, record sales and other products – reach the Capitol for resolution.
One of the more protracted conflicts is over California Labor Code, section 2855 of the Labor Code, which prohibits personal service contracts from being performed for more than seven years. In theory, he encourages music and film directors to invest in the development of new talent, ensuring that they get a return on their investment for at least seven years, while banning long-term contracts that would keep actors, singers and other artists in bondage. .
Over the years, there have been several attempts to change the seven-year period from those that would benefit financially, sometimes to extend the term of the contract, sometimes to weaken it, but none have succeeded. However, at the current session of the legislature, a new effort has been made to change the law, using the time-honored practice of “gutting and repairing”.
This is a way to introduce new legislation beyond the usual committee hearings and voting. A bill that has already been passed by a chamber is deprived of its content (gutted) and the new bill is inserted as an amendment, thus skipping the regular processes.
In February, Assembly member Ash Calra, a Democrat from San Jose, introduced Assembly Bill 2926, which would essentially give musicians and actors a way to escape their seven-year contracts and / or work for others while on contract.
The legislation was backed by entertainment industry unions and some established artists, and reflected similar legislation that had failed in the past.
The bill met with strong opposition from leaders in the record and film industries, who said it would destroy a system that was mutually beneficial, and stopped. Calra then split it into two endurance and repair bills, one for the film industry (AB 437) and one for the record industry (AB 983), both of which are now awaiting action in the Senate Labor Committee.
AB 983 is particularly interesting because if adopted, it will obviously help Irving Azof, perhaps the most famous figure in the record industry, to release a new record label, Giant Music. According to media from the entertainment industry, this would make it easier for Giant Music to hire musicians from the highest drawer, who are now under contract with other record companies. Ironically, when such a bill was proposed 35 years ago, Azof, then head of the MCA’s entertainment colossus, strongly opposed it, saying it would ruin the industry.
There are no good or bad boys here. The legislature is being asked to engage in conflict between competing elements of the entertainment industry by tilting the legal field for play.
Lawyers who specialize in navigating through the snake pit could increase their maximum paid hours, but there is nothing in any bill that would benefit the general public.
The legislature must stop wasting its time on this issue and pay more attention to issues that really matter, such as the emerging shortage of water, housing and electricity.
CalMatters is a journalistic endeavor of public interest committed to explaining how the California state of Capitol works and why it matters.