Motion Pictures:

Legislation Affecting Payments for Reuse Likely to Have Small Impact on Industry

GAO-01-291: Published: Jan 31, 2001. Publicly Released: Jan 31, 2001.

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The Digital Millennium Copyright Act was enacted to ensure that members of actors', directors', and writers' unions were paid residuals when films were reused in television and video. GAO's analysis of motion picture industry data found that, in the three years leading up to the 1998 legislation, at most, about 2 percent of the $1.7 billion in residuals owed went unpaid. The unpaid residuals accrued when production companies did not require distributors to pay residuals upon reuse of the film. In reviewing films made under contract with an actors' union between 1996 and 1998, GAO found 771 films for which residuals had not been paid or obligations assumed. About 87 percent of these films were low-budget productions costing less than $2 million. Because these low-budget films typically generate little in the way of earnings on which residuals are based, the amount of lost residuals is relatively small. Although there has been little impact on the motion picture industry so far, the legislation could affect the profitability of low-budget films. The payment of previously unpaid residuals could increase the production and distribution costs of low-budget films, thereby diminishing the profits. However, even if the legislation caused some low-budget films to become unprofitable, gross revenues in the motion picture industry would fall by less than 2 percent. Although the legislation's impact on the overall motion picture industry may be small, some individuals working on low-budget films could experience substantial losses.

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