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SAG Settles Foreign Royalties Suit (updated)

The guild declines to disclose details of the settlement of the 2007 case over its failure to distribute so-called foreign levy funds, taxes collected abroad for members of the guild

 The Screen Actors Guild said Friday it has settled a case involving the distribution of foreign royalties, but would provide no details of the settlement.


The case filed in September 2007 by "Leave It to Beaver" star Ken Osmond alleged that the union withheld so-called foreign levy funds worth millions of dollars from him and other actors.

In response to an inquiry from TheWrap seeking details of the settlement, SAG declined to provide information beyond a statement from Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, deputy national executive director and general counsel:

“Screen Actors Guild is proud of its efforts to claim and distribute foreign royalties on behalf of our members. Since the inception of our program we have distributed more than $7 million in royalty funds to more than 70,000 individual performers that would otherwise have gone unclaimed and been lost to them forever. We are pleased to have reached this tentative settlement and will continue our efforts to distribute funds as quickly and efficiently as possible.”

If confirmed, the settlement would bring to an end multiple lawsuits involving two Hollywood guilds, all over millions of dollars owed to both members and non-members that the unions declined to acknowledge. A suit brought against the writers guild was settled quietly last September. 

The lawsuit brought against the Screen Actors Guild by actor Ken Osmond, a member of the guild who played Eddie Haskell on "Leave it to Beaver" in the 1950s, revealed the existence of a secret 2002 agreement between the studios and the guild.

The secret agreement granted the major studios half of the money collected abroad on behalf of actors from the sale of DVDs, blank VHS tapes and cable transmissions.

TheWrap has been following the case closely. Earlier, TheWrap discovered about $25 million in unpaid residual payments owed to members. The guild undertook a campaign to return that money within weeks of TheWrap's revelation. The sum had came to light when the guild was queried about the unclaimed residuals, brought to a reporter’s attention by a SAG member, Eric Hughes. Hughes has challenged the guilds over allegedly missing foreign levy payments, and has been involved in resulting lawsuits filed against SAG and other guilds.

The Writers Guild of America quietly settled a class action lawsuit over unpaid foreign levies in August 2009, shortly after TheWrap published the full deposition of whistleblower Terri Mial describing how she was instructed to ignore checks written to writers, and shredded the related lists.

In September 2008. WaxWord, Sharon Waxman's blog that pre-dated TheWrap, published a long list of actors who were listed as being owed money by SAG. The guild claimed at the time that it could not find them.

From that blog post:

"Among the vast list of actors who have not claimed residual payments are some of Hollywood’s most famous figures, both living and deceased.

Among deceased actors are: Natalie Wood, Richard Burton, Dirk Bogarde, Deborah Kerr, Lana Turner, Simone Signoret, Frank Sinatra, Robert Taylor, Tallulah Bankhead, Jayne Mansfield, Alan Ladd, Roy Rogers, Joseph Cotten and even the former president of SAG, Charlton Heston.

The also include comedy stars Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy and Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. They include Judy Garland, Myrna Loy and Clark Gable.

Two political titans are on the list: John F. Kennedy, who appeared in a documentary called “Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment,” and his brother, Ted Kennedy."

Here's that full post, which preceded the guild's campaign to return the money.