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1. Sammy Davis, Jr.'s Legacy
Highest Court N.D. Texas
Year Ended 2011
Plaintiffs Business Entity of Artist(s)
Estate of Artist(s)
Financial Institution(s)
Spouse of Artist(s)
Defendants Financial Institution(s)
Financial Professional(s)
Other Davis, Sammy (Jr.)
Short Description Sammy Davis, Jr., was undoubtedly one of the most iconic musical stars of the twentieth century, and his death left behind piles of money, royalties, and assorted enforceable rights for his family. After his death, Sammy's wife, Altovise, formed a corporation with Defendants, including a financial institution and its named owner, to handle the royalty income, publicity rights, etc., for the deceased star. In forming their corporation, the parties agreed that Altovise would transfer her interests to the new corporation, but that after five years she would be given the assets back in return for a payment of $1. After the time limit was reached and she tendered the required payment, Defendants refused to remit the properties and interests to Plaintiffs, which include Altovise's estate and assorted corporate and financial entities. Defendants argued that Plaintiffs could not enforce the terms of the agreements because Altovise had previously materially breached the contract by withholding royalties. The court denied Plaintiffs' motion to strike statements made by various Defendants, which were relevant to Defendants' equitable defenses. However, on Plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction preventing Defendants from continuing to exploit the contested assets while withholding payment to Plaintiffs, the court found that Defendants were indeed spending money belonging to the corporation, not paying Plaintiffs their 1/3 interest in the corporation's profits, and publicly declaring that Defendants owned all the corporation's assets. Defendants were enjoined from spending any more money or writing checks to anyone other than the court, from holding themselves out as owners of the assets, from selling or transferring shares in the company to anyone other than Plaintiff (or anyone at all). - LSW

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2. Ex-Girlfriend vs. 50 Cent
Highest Court New York Supreme Court
Year Ended 2008
Plaintiffs Girlfriend of Artist(s)
Defendants 50 Cent
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description A longtime girlfriend to Curtis Jackson (50 Cent), who is also mother to his child, sued 50 for numerous causes of action after he "made it big," alleging he had earlier promised, in return for supporting him while he was struggling and newly paroled, that "when he makes it big, he will take care of [her] for the rest of [her] life." When 50's celebrity and bank account grew, he pushed for Plaintiff (and provided funds) to start a career investing in properties. After the relationship strained, 50 began sleeping around and allegedly hitting Plaintiff, they split, and Plaintiff filed this suit. It could be taught in first year Contracts classes, as it deals with oral contracts and equitable relief that may arise when such promises are unenforceable. The trial court found that Plaintiff stated causes of action for breach of contract, breach of joint venture agreement, partition of property, and various equitable actions, holding that unmarried cohabitants were legally able to contract regarding financial matters. In its final disposition, however, the court dismissed the complaint in its entirety. Any contract-based claims were blocked by lack of specificity in the original promise or by the Statute of Frauds, as not performable within one year. The court found for 50 Cent on every other cause of action, denying petition of property and dismissing assault and battery (outside the statute of limitations), fraud, and others. Plaintiff's "unjust enrichment" action was also insufficient; 50 had since taken care of Plaintiff, even if she originally took care of him. - LSW

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3. Country Copyright Conundrum
Highest Court Court of Appeals of Tennessee
Year Ended 2008
Plaintiffs Cagle, Chris
Defendants Music Manager(s)
Music Publisher(s)
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Chris Cagle is a country music artist signed to Virgin Records for several albums in the 2000s, still currently performing and recording under different labels. Defendant was Cagle's manager and exclusive publisher, with whom Cagle signed an agreement at a time Cagle was still an unrecognized talent. After time passed and a record deal was inked, Cagle realized his management contract was not satisfactory, and Hybner was blocking certain career opportunities. Plaintiff sued Defendant for breaching fiduciary duties owed as a manager. The appellate court held that Defendant did owe a fiduciary duty, but was not breach. Defendant's request for specific performance and injunctive relief were denied, however. - LSW

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4. Who Owns Manson Concert?
Highest Court C.D. California
Year Ended 2004
Plaintiffs Eagle Rock Entertainment
Marilyn Manson
Defendants Film Distributor(s)
Film Producer(s)
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Copyright dispute over who owns the rights to a Manson performance aired on Pay-Per-View, intended for DVD release. Judgment for Manson. - [This entry is not yet complete or has not been edited/checked.]

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5. M.J.'s Biz Deals Gone Bad
Highest Court C.D. California
Year Ended 2003
Plaintiffs Barden, Don
Business Entity of Artist(s)
Jackson, Michael
Defendants Business Entity of Artist(s)
Krofft, Sid and Marty
Music Publisher(s)
Television Producer(s)
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description In an odd case, it appears as though Michael Jackson and casino owner/businessman Don Bardon made a decision to purchase stock worth $10 million in Sid & Marty Krofft's company, which was responsible for the late-1960s/early-70s psychedelic children's show H.R. Pufnstuf, among other equally interesting endeavors. In a Letter of Intent between the parties, Jack-O and Barden made an initial $500,000 transfer, which, if the final sale did not go through, would be characterized as a "loan" and would require repayment. Apparently Jackson also bought $63,000 worth of the Kroffts' memorabilia, which was also credited towards the $10 million total price. When the sale did not go through, Jackson and Bardon's company sued for return of the loan, and the Krofft company cross-claimed, alleging contract breach and promissory estoppel, requesting specific performance on the stock purchase. The court dismissed Defendants' counterclaims, holding the Letter of Intent between the parties was not a contract by itself, but merely an expression of an intent to create one (unsurprisingly). Because the letter contained no clear and unambiguous promise to complete the stock purchase, both theories were dismissed and no specific performance was granted. - LSW

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6. Bankrupt Jazz Artist Fights Contract
Highest Court E.D. Michigan
Year Ended 1999
Plaintiffs Cloyd, Jerald
Defendants GRP Records
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description In the jazz industry, at least near the end of the 1990s, it was considered successful if a recording artist sold 40,000 copies of an album, and Plaintiff, jazz musician Gerald Cloyd, sold 20,000 of his first album (of two contracted) for GRP Records. After an initial attempt to declare the contract invalid (dismissed for procedural reasons), Cloyd filed for bankruptcy and sought to reject his record contract, which GRP, unsurprisingly, fought to prevent. The issue, as with other similar cases, revolved around whether the recording contract was "executory" in nature, thus subjecting it to rejection by the bankruptcy trustee. The court found Cloyd's record contract, which had significant actions yet to be performed was executory, and Cloyd's estate could reject it. While non-compete clauses have been held binding even after rejection, exclusivity provisions are different, and can be rejected alongside the contracts of which they're a part. Even though rejecting the contract would effectively constitute breach, that is precisely the type of activity anticipated by contract rejection during bankruptcy proceedings. Cloyd's filing was in good faith, and rejecting the contract is allowed. - LSW

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7. Plaintff: "I Wanna Produce Jazz Awards!"
Highest Court Eighth Circuit
Year Ended 1993
Plaintiffs Ceremony Organizer(s)
Defendants Charitable Organization(s)
Other Parker, Charlie
Short Description This case relates only to Parker's memorial foundation, which had allowed Plaintiff to organize and promote an awards show at the Jazz Hall of Fame. After Plaintiff was contractually granted rights to produce continuing shows of the same nature, Defendant cancelled the contract and Plaintiff sued. The matter was submitted to arbitrator who rendered an "unintelligible" ruling granting Plaintiff specific performance on the contract. The court required the arbitrator to clarify its award, which it did, to some extent. Despite the obvious difficulties with enforcing the award, Defendants failed to timely object to either the initial confirmation or the clarification of the arbitration award, and thus waived its right to vacate the arbitration. The court upheld the initial arbitration award, but acknowledged it may be impossible to enforce and damages may be necessary instead. - LSW

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8. Concert in California Canceled
Highest Court California Court of Appeal
Year Ended 1991
Plaintiffs Music Promoter(s)
Defendants Music Proprietor(s)
Other Amos, Wally
Elliot, Jack
Warwick, Dionne
Washington, Grover, Jr.
Short Description Plaintiffs comprise two musical organizations, one called the Foundation for New American Music, Inc., directed by Jack Elliot, however it's not entirely clear which Jack Elliott he is. They planned for a concert, one of 30 they've thrown over the years, featuring Wally Amos, Dionne Warwick, and Grover Washington, Jr., and paid a deposit for the room on their specific date, although they did not sign a lease with Defendant's venue on that day. When Defendant reneged the deal and offered the hall to ABC Television for more money, Plaintiff sued for breach of contract. The court found that, while no contract was formed for the reservation, they had entered a legitimate option contract, giving Plaintiff the option to use the auditorium on the day in question, which Defendant breached. - LSW

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9. Superfreak & Proteges vs. Motown
Highest Court S.D. New York
Year Ended 1990
Plaintiffs Motown Records
Defendants James, Rick
Mary Jane Girls
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description In a longstanding dispute between Motown Records (on one side) and Rick James and his proteges, the "Mary Jane Girls" (on the other), Motown initially sued for breach of contract, then the artists sued Motown for nonpayment of royalties, underpromotion, and improper use of funds. Rick James released five albums in the 1980s that went gold or better (500,000 units sold), and one that sold over two million copies, while the Girls released two albums that each sold around 500,000. The court provided an extensive discussion of the practices of the industry, which, in the court's words, illustrate the "inherent tension exists between the creative talent and drive of a Rick James under exclusive contract and the administrative, legal, and commercial requirements of a record distribution company such as Motown." Specifically, Motown Records was well known for their rather abusive tactics, particularly their extensive "cross-collateralization," which allowed them to offset monetary gains against monetary losses, pooling money made from tours, records, merchandise, publishing, etc., into single funds that would then, inevitably (due in part to "creative" accounting) end up in the negative. At the time of this trial, James was in the red to the tune of $900,000 and the Girls around $700,000. Though the court found that Motown had breached the contract through nonpayment of royalties, James hadn't exactly been the ideal artist, flubbing deadlines and wasting advances and income on recurrent drug additions. Though the opinion is entirely too long and complicated to summarize herein, the gist is as follows: Plaintiffs requested relief in the millions of dollars, despite their huge debts, and were only allowed claims in tens of thousands. It could certainly not be said that James and the Girls were treated appropriately by their label, but equally as much, their financial troubles were not entirely their label's fault. Among the often-cited aspects of this opinion are: 1) James' claims for rescission of the underlying contracts were denied, since he'd not shown fraud or the compete lack of royalty payments, necessary to rescind the partially-adhered-to agreement; 2) merely proving that Motown spent less on promotion for James' later albums than his earlier ones or than other releases on the label, did not on its own prove bad faith or breach by Motown; and 3) lost profits from underpromoted albums may be too speculative to prove precise damages, but the action may nevertheless be allowed. Unfortunately, the opinions themselves are hard too locate for free online; we apologize that licensing restrictions prevent us from including them in their entirety on this website. Truly. - LSW

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10. Jabara Wants Payment & Credit
Highest Court S.D. New York
Year Ended 1989
Plaintiffs Jabara, Paul
Defendants Koppelman, Charles
Music Producer(s)
Music Publisher(s)
Other Weather Girls
Short Description Paul Jabara is a well-known music producer who has worked with Barbra Streisand and many others, including the relevant artist in this suit, the Weather Girls. Jabara sued his former publisher and associated entities for various contract-related causes of action, all arising from his songwriting and production work for the Weather Girls' recordings and video, and most relating to the nonpayment of supposedly owed moneys. Defendants' motion to dismiss was mostly denied; the actions for nonpayment of royalties and quantum meruit had merit, but because much of the agreement was supposedly oral, other claims were blocked by the Statute of Frauds or parole evidence. - LSW

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11. The "Tina Marie Law" Takes Effect
Highest Court California Court of Appeal
Year Ended 1984
Plaintiffs Jobete Music
Motown Records
Defendants No Defendants on file
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Tina Marie sued Motown for nonpayment of royalties; she was freed from her contract, awarded a cash settlement, and (according to the Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock n' Roll) set a precedent called the "Tina Marie Law," which forbids record labels from holding artists to contracts while refusing to release their work. More specifically, the California court held that paying Marie $6,000 per year as optional contractual extensions did not meet minimum payment requirements according to statute, which could allow her label to specifically enforce the agreement. The minimum amount must be from record royalties, specifically, not other lump-sum payments, and thus the exclusivity provision was not applied to her. - LSW

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12. Willie Nile's Bankruptcy
Highest Court S.D. New York
Year Ended 1982
Plaintiffs Nile, Willie
Defendants No Defendants on file
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Recording artist Willie Nile, a lesser-known but critically-acclaimed singer-songwriter, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and sought to reject his recording contract with Arista Records, as was his legal right, for which he'd recorded several albums but left obligations outstanding. When Arista "vehemently" opposed Nile's attempts, he converted his bankruptcy to Chapter 7, hoping to make the process easier. Arista sued to re-convert the proceeding to Chapter 11, at which point they undoubtedly hoped to try forcing the contract on Nile despite his desire otherwise. The court found Arista's scheme unsatisfactory. Not only would forcing Nile to assume the contract defeat the purpose of bankruptcy, which is to afford "fresh starts," but Arista must have known this outcome was a possibility, as this type of litigation isn't exactly uncommon, and outcomes are relatively similar (personal services contracts for individuals' skill are rejectable in bankruptcy). Re-converting the case to Chapter 11, given that Arista cannot force Nile to assume the contract, is pointless. Sorry, Arista. - LSW

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13. Opera House: "No Hammersteins Allowed!"
Highest Court New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division
Year Ended 1917
Plaintiffs Music Proprietor(s)
Defendants Hammerstein, Oscar (1st)
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description One of several confusing case arising from Hammerstein's divorce and the ownership of his Opera House and Amusement Park. . . - [This entry is not yet complete or has not been edited/checked.]

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14. Witmark's Unacceptable Contract
Highest Court New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division
Year Ended 1914
Plaintiffs M. Witmark & Sons
Defendants Music Publisher(s)
Peters, William F.
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description This is an invaluable case for two reasons. First, it involves the infamous House of Witmark, a publishing entity that revolutionized songwriting, publishing, and marketing near the end of the 1800s and into the early 1900s. Second, it is among the first cases declaring music industry contracts unenforceable as against public policy; though it doesn't use the key phrase "unconscionability," it's holding could be characterized as such. Songwriter William F. Peters isn't very well-known, but Witmark's restrictive contracts are. In this case, the court refused to specifically enforce the Witmark contract after Peters violated its exclusivity provision by selling songs he's written to a third-party publisher, saying the agreement was "so inequitable that a court of equity would not be justified in enforcing its provisions." According to the court, the contract's terms allowed The Witmarks to publish and sell next-to-nothing Peters wrote, yet could still "make itself absolute master of the entire productive capacity of Peters for five years, preventing him from finding a market for his efforts elsewhere, and at the same time paying him a royalty ridiculously small and entirely inadequate for the services which he was required to perform for them." The trial court's holding for Plaintiffs was thus reversed and remanded. - LSW

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15. Opera Contract Broken in 1833
Highest Court Chancery Court of New York
Year Ended 1833
Plaintiffs De Rivafinoli, Vincenzo
Defendants Corsetti, Guiseppe
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Opera singer Guiseppe Corsetti contracted to sing bass for Plaintiff in Havana, Cuba, and Plaintiff sued for specific performance on the contract when Defendant left after a wage dispute. Despite the old adage that "a bird that can sing and will not sing must be made to sing," the Defendant's singing engagement for the upcoming season was not even yet supposed to begin, and thus the case was found to be premature. Bring it back if he really breaches. History tells us that he did. - LSW (ed. SKR)

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