The Screen Actor’s Guild has sent out a message to its members, and those who belong to the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, reminding them that on April 1, 2011, significant changes to compensation for commercials made for the Internet and new media will come into play.

The memo discusses how session minimums and usage fees will apply as of that date, ending the era in which there was “free bargaining” for new media and Internet-only commercials. It also details the minimums to be adhered to by those employing guild members. Current — and soon to be prior — talent payment contracts are based on a payment system that has been in place for more than 50 years and does not reflect the vast technological innovations that have swamped the entertainment business.

The new rules will affect more than 200,000 film and television principal performers and background performers represented by SAG worldwide. According to SAG’s Mission Statement, the guild seeks to “negotiate and enforce collective bargaining agreements that establish equitable levels of compensation, benefits, and working conditions for its performers.” When SAG launched into its negotiations over the new media and Internet rules, the contract talks at the time turned long and tough, with the timing of the protracted wrangling — at the start of the excrciating economic downturn — adding to divisions and unhappiness among members.

As for reaction to the putting in place of the 21st Century aspects of the accord, Kris Le Fan and Chandler Parker, both actors, members of SAG and law students in Southwestern Law School’s SCALE program had their own observations.

Kris Le Fan said: “As we all know, the digital age has completely changed the game for artists and the companies who market and sell their products.  Coupled with the dominance of reality TV and the public’s unquenchable thirst for celebrities, many blue-collar artists have been starved for money and medium to express themselves.  The Internet has been a double-edged sword in this respect.  On the one hand, it has provided an open forum for those who would not otherwise have a chance, to produce, to create and to be able to deliver their product to a viewing public.  On the other hand it, has allowed companies to profit from their work in ways which are difficult to track and hard to quantify in terms of a financial pie to be split between the artist and the business.  Actors everywhere will be grateful to see the end of free bargaining in the commercial industry. It is our hope that SAG will continue to adapt to the ever emerging and constantly changing technologies.”

Chandler Parker was more terse: “Its about time that SAG acknowledges the fact that jobs in new media should be subject to the same financial protections that have been afforded actors in TV and film.”