Artifact: A musician’s struggle against a giant corporation
By Robert Fowler
World Socialist Web Site
Jared Leto is perhaps best known to the general public for his work as a film actor, most notably in David Fincher’s Fight Club (1999) and Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream (2000). However, in recent years he has devoted his attention to the world of music, as the lead singer of Thirty Seconds to Mars.
Artifact, directed by Leto himself, under the pseudonym Bartholomew Cubbins (of Dr. Seuss fame), revolves around major record label EMI’s decision to sue the band for $30 million in August 2008. The film was screened November 8 as part of the New York City documentary festival DOC NYC and previously, in September, at the Toronto film festival.
The “crime” committed by Leto’s group was simply wanting to excuse themselves from their existing, demonstrably illegitimate contract. EMI, however, claimed that Thirty Seconds to Mars had failed to deliver the three albums required by their agreement.
Leto and his band mates were understandably aggrieved at the fact that having sold over 2 million albums at the time of being taken to court, they had not received a penny in royalties and … were still $1.4 million in debt to EMI. This, as the film makes clear, is the standard operating procedure of the record companies, who are in the business, as one commentator notes, “of not paying musicians.”
Leto explained the predicament on the band’s web site: “We had been signed with them [EMI] for nine years. Under California law, where we lived and signed our deal one cannot be bound to a contract for more than seven years. …
“Yes, we have been sued by EMI. But NOT for failing to deliver music or for ‘quitting’. We have been sued by the corporation quite simply because roughly 45 days ago we exercised our legal right to terminate our old, out of date contract, which according to the law is null and void.
“We terminated for a number of reasons, which we won’t go into here (we’d rather not air dirty laundry) but basically our representatives could not get EMI to agree to make a fair and reasonable deal.”
Thirty Second to Mars’ struggle with EMI commenced just as the financial crisis erupted. The filming of what would become Artifact also began at that time and Leto, with a certain degree of self-importance, draws parallels between the plight of the band and global economic crisis. “As we are trying to make a deal with EMI the world is falling apart,” he comments. Nonetheless, insofar as the musician denounces the record giants and Wall Street as part of the same problem, he is on to something.
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