Former City Opera Workers Union Wants Royalties

By Kristina Skorbach, Epoch Times
November 14, 2013 6:38 pm Last Updated: November 14, 2013 6:38 pm

NEW YORK—The former City Opera costume and production designers want their royalties for the sale of their props and costumes that might be used in other productions.

New York City Opera Inc. proposed a sale “free and clear of liens, claims, and encumbrances”; however, they are running into the danger of breeching the contract under the collective bargaining agreement with the union, United Scenic Artists Local USA 829.

City Opera, a 70-year-old institution, filed for bankruptcy in October. They are selling all assets including production materials like props and costumes in an online auction. All these assets will be stored at a facility in Yonkers where the bidders can pick up their purchases.

But here’s the issue. If the bidder buys a sizable number of props and costumes from the same production, this could be considered intellectual property, which requires the purchaser to pay royalty fees to the designers. For example, 38 out of the 45 costumes used in a “Don Giovanni” opera could be used to ‘revive’ the production. The price for every revival is $750, which would go to the union workers.

“We’re already talking small dollars, but every penny counts,” said the attorney representing New York City Opera Inc., Nicole Stefanelli, to a group of lawyers huddled in a courtroom at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Lower Manhattan.

Thomas S. Feeley Jr., the attorney representing the workers union said they’re trying to reach an agreement with City Opera, but his concern is with the wording in the motion.

“The purchaser needs to be advised at time of sale about royalties,” he said at the hearing. The documents prepared by City Opera, do not clearly outline the royalty fees that the potential purchaser will be paying every time they want to restage a production with the purchased props.

Honorable Sean H. Lane said the two parties should work on the language of the motion and reach an agreement.

According to Stefanelli, some of the proceeds from the auction will be used to pay back on the rent at the storage facility in Yonkers.