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Lawsuit challenges unions’ right to money withheld from musicians

Famous musical artists often rely upon stellar musicians in the background to get their sound just right and turn it into a product that mesmerizes the masses.

Put another way: It is often the sounds created by top-notch session musicians that factor into a smash hit just as much as does a musical mainstay’s performance.

The bottom line with crack studio instrumentalists is that they are flatly important – albeit often underappreciated and unrecognized – presences on musical recordings.

Understandably, they want to be paid as much as possible for their work.

That pay commands the spotlight in a current class action lawsuit filed in a California state court. That litigation alleges that trustees of a fund set up to pay royalties to session musicians impermissibly exceeded their decision-making grant by siphoning off 1.5% of collections. That money has been redistributed over several years to two unions representing performers that were already granted service fees.

The litigation thus makes two key contentions, namely, that the trustees’ move breached their fiduciary duties under the trust and that the unions – the American Federation of Musicians and SAG-AFTRA – are unlawfully receiving expenses on top of the fee-linked monies they are solely entitled to.

The defendants unsurprisingly have a different take on the matter. They argue that the lawsuit should be dismissed, given that the trustees allegedly have broad authority to act in their fund administration and an unqualified right to compensate the unions.

The case is ongoing. We will keep readers timely apprised of any material details that emerge.

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