Actors from the first stage production of Les Misérables are gearing up for a revolt against the company behind the original cast recording, after discovering they will no longer get royalty payments, says The Independent.
Members of the original cast, including Michael Ball, who played Marius in the 1985 production, have just learnt that they will no longer receive royalties from the soundtrack recording, which has sold hundreds of thousands of copies in the UK alone. Cast members say they were unaware a contract clause stipulated royalties would only be paid for 25 years.
Equity says it will take up its members’ cause and is seeking legal advice. The contract was based on a template agreement reached between industry body the BPI on behalf of record companies and Equity.
First Night Records, which made the recording, insists that it has done nothing wrong and has simply abided by the terms of the recording contract agreed by Equity. Similar cast recording contracts that pay royalties to performers in successful shows such as The Phantom of the Opera will also end soon, and are expected to spark copy-cat spats.
Here’s what the Les Mis originals had to say:
Peter Polycarpou (Jean Prouvaire) — “It’s just simply not morally right to keep the royalties back after only a 25-year period.”
Frances Ruffelle (Eponine) — “[The royalty payment] really is pennies, but to some of the cast who are ill or retired, it’s a winter fuel payment or house repair.”
Rebecca Caine (Cosette) - “We are fighting so this doesn’t happen again.”
An online petition, Pay the OLC of Les Mis!, is calling for the original performers to be continued to be paid.
Martin Brown, Equity’s assistant general secretary, said,
We made an agreement with record producers back in the 1960s that secured payments for artists for 25 years. At that time, the legal copyright was 20 years, so we secured a five-year extension to the legal copyright. First Night Records are trying to use that nearly 50-year-old contract to terminate payments at 25 years, even though the legal copyright is now much longer.”
John Craig, the managing director of First Night Records, said,
The beef that the players have should be with Equity and not with us. Their union signed a silly contract, and there are quite onerous clauses in that contract from our point of view, and this gives us an opportunity to renegotiate a contract with more sensible clauses. I feel quite bitter that Equity sign a contract and then moan like crazy when we stand behind the terms of it.”
Most cast recordings are unsuccessful commercially and cost a considerable amount when recorded in the studio. Pop albums, pointed out Craig, recoup the recording costs before royalties are paid, whereas under the Equity contract royalties are paid from the very first record sold.
Photo: from left, Rebecca Caine, Peter Polycarpou and Frances Ruffelle