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1. Stepney's Family Wants Royalties
Highest Court N.D. Illinois
Year Ended 2011
Plaintiffs Estate of Artist(s)
Music Publisher(s)
Trust of Artist(s)
Defendants UMG Records
Other Stepney, Charles
Short Description Charles Stepney was the head producer at Chess Records, the pivotal Chicago-based record label immortalized in the movie "Cadillac Records," for some years during the late 1960s and 1970s, after time as a staff producer. Under his agreement with Chess, Stepney was to be paid a 3% royalty on 90% of the records released containing only his material, and half that percentage on foreign sales. However, when he died in 1976, he had only been provided with two accounting statements, which should have been tendered twice a year. His rights passed to his wife through his estate, and his wife died in 2008, after which Stepney's children, in the name of his estate and their newly-created trust, sued UMG--Chess's successor-in-interest--for breach of contract and fiduciary duties and multiple equitable remedies. In this opinion, the court ruled only on three counts of the complaint, dismissing Plaintiffs' claims for breach of fiduciary duty, because no fiduciary relationship was alleged, and constructive trust, because it is a remedy and not an independent cause of action. However, Plaintiffs' claim for unjust enrichment was not dismissed. Other causes of action were not discussed. - LSW


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2. "My Contract's Bad And I'm Gonna Be in Trouble"
Highest Court New York Supreme Court
Year Ended 2010
Plaintiffs Angels
Defendants Music Publisher(s)
Record Label(s)
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Plaintiffs are the Allbut sisters, the two backing vocalists for The Angels, who had a massive hit with "My Boyfriend's Back." The sisters had not received royalties for the recording (they didn't write it so publishing is unavailable) since they repudiated the exclusivity provision in their contract in the 1960s. The court here found that, at least regarding royalty payments due within the previous six years, the doctrine of laches did not bar the suit, because Defendants could not show prejudice on account of the delay. However, most other claims were barred by statutes of limitation. - LSW


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3. Rappers Receive Enough Royalties?
Highest Court Second Circuit
Year Ended 2010
Plaintiffs Band Member(s)
Music Publisher(s)
Robinson, Sylvia
Defendants Music Publisher(s)
Sanctuary Records
Other Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five
Grand Master Melle Mel
Sugar Hill Gang
Wall Street Mob
Short Description The Sugar Hill Gang, Grand Master Flash, The Wall Street Mob, The Furious Five, and Grand Master Melle Mel, along with Sylvia Robinson, founder of Sugar Hill Records, godmother of rap music, and former member of Mickey and Sylvia, which had a few hits back in the day, sued Sanctuary Records Group for release from record contracts. After obtaining a default judgment for rescission of the contracts, Plaintiffs sought damages in the realm of $30 million, even though they'd initially only sought rescission. and damages from unpaid royalties. Artists were released from contracts after default judgment, but were awarded no damages. Both Sanctuary and the Plaintiffs appealed, the former seeking to vacate the default and the latter requesting monetary relief. After first being unsuccessful, the Court of Appeals later remanded to the District Court to reconsider their denial to vacate the default; it is the preference of the courts to resolve disputes on the merits. - LSW


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4. Record Label vs. Crofts (But No Seals)
Highest Court N.D. Georgia
Year Ended 2010
Plaintiffs Record Label(s)
Defendants Band Member(s)
Other Seals and Crofts
Short Description Defendant Crofts, of Seals and Crofts, entered an agreement to record songs for Plaintiff, but purportedly breached this agreement, resulting in the instant lawsuit. Plaintiff's actions for fraud and equitable rescission were denied, but so were Defendant's motions to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, to transfer venue, or to compel arbitration, so Plaintiff's breach of contract claim survives. - LSW


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5. Luny Contract Invalid?
Highest Court S.D. Florida
Year Ended 2010
Plaintiffs Band Member(s)
LT's Benjamin Records
Defendants Music Publisher(s)
UMG Records
Other Luny Tunes
Short Description Plaintiffs include Luny, of the production duo Luny Tunes, best known for their central role in the reggaeton careers of artists such as Daddy Yankee. Defendants, including entities of the Universal Music Group, contracted to be provided Plaintiff's exclusive output, as per standard recording agreements. In this suit, Luny alleged that Defendants breached their contract, that the contract was an unenforceable restraint on trade, that UMG failed to adequately promote Plaintiff's work, and that he was owed over $2.5 million in past due amounts. This opinion addressed mostly Plaintiff's claims that the contract was an illegal restraint on trade, brought under state statutes. Most record contracts restrict artists' legal rights to perform for other record labels, and this contract was no different. On Defendant's motion to dismiss, the court held that one vital element of the claim, the "reasonableness" of the restrictive covenant in the contract, was an issue of fact that was not properly decided on a motion to dismiss. - LSW


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6. Bay City Royalties
Highest Court S.D. New York
Year Ended 2009
Plaintiffs Bay City Rollers
Defendants Arista Records
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description In a case with "unprecedented facts," according to the court, Defendant record label openly admitted to not paying Plaintiffs royalties for roughly 25 years, as they were required to under a record contract signed in 1981. Plaintiffs insist that Defendant repeatedly assured Plaintiffs they would pay the money, or simply said they did not know where to send the payments, even after Plaintiff's supplied the label with contact information. Defendant, however, claims Plaintiffs' cause of action was blocked by the statute of limitations. The court here found that the statute of limitations didnot prevent Plaintiff's contract action, since the pleadings, if taken to be true, stated a cause of action. Plaintiff's claim for breach of fiduciary duty failed, however, as no fiduciary relationship existed. In a related case, former members of the group sued to be included but were denied. - LSW


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7. Country Artists Accused of Copying
Highest Court M.D. Tennessee
Year Ended 2009
Plaintiffs Artist(s)
Defendants Curb Records
Gallimore, Byron
McGraw, Tim
Music Publisher(s)
Stroud, James
Wiseman, Craig
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Plaintiff was the composer of a song entitled "Anytime, Anywhere, Amanda," inspired by his friendship with a former Miss Texas, Amanda Little. When country superstar Tim McGraw released a song called "Everywhere" on an album of the same name, Plaintiff sued, alleging McGraw copied Plaintiff's song in his composition, requesting relief under copyright and trademark, requesting declaratory judgment, damages, and equitable remedies. Plaintiff argued McGraw had access to Plaintiff's song because another recording artist had used another of Plaintiff's song on an album recorded at the studio where McGraw recorded "Everywhere." Plaintiff unsuccessfully sought a "gag order" (though he didn't call it that) preventing McGraw from speaking to the media about the case, after McGraw responded to questions by media outlet TMZ.com. The court found this request outlandish. Further, the whole case was disposed of on McGraw's summary judgment. The declaratory judgment of infringement was not yet ripe, and, further, Plaintiff's alleged proof of "access" was tenous and insufficient, and no evidence of substantial similarity between the songs was provided. McGraw was victorious on all counts. - LSW


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8. More Money for Crickets & Hollies?
Highest Court California Court of Appeal
Year Ended 2009
Plaintiffs MCA Records
Defendants Family of Artist(s)
Former Band Member(s)
Spouse of Artist(s)
Other Holly, Buddy (and the Crickets)
Petty, Norman
Short Description Buddy Holly was one of the most promising of the early rock n' roll stars, writing and producing his own music, but his life was cut short by the infamously tragic plane crash in 1959 that also killed Richie Valens and The Big Bopper. In this case, brought in 1999, Holly's widow, heirs, and former members of the Crickets sued MCA Records for unpaid royalties due on contracts signed in the 1950s but amended numerous times thereafter, alleging breach of contract and fiduciary duty, as well as fraud, conversion, and more. On motions for summary judgment, the court held the contract actions not barred by the statute of limitations regarding the previous four years, but found the fraud and duty claims not actionable. The court found MCA liable for over $500,000 in unpaid royalties owed on sales since 1995. Because each royalty underpayment was an individual wrong, the court allowed Plaintiffs recovery on those within the statutory period, but did not agree with Plaintiff's "delayed discovery" argument regarding earlier underpayment. On appeal, the California court of appeals affirmed, finding all but the contract awards properly disposed. Plaintiffs' award was increased, however, since the lower court had inappropriately allowed MCA to deduct "packaging costs" according to practices enshrined in Holly's contracts, but which were long-outdated by the time the contracts were signed. MCA needed to present evidence of actual packaging costs, not industry customs with no real bearing on reality. Since MCA presented no such evidence, no packaging costs were deducted, and the award was increased by $75,000. - LSW


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9. Detroit Singer Sued for Own CDs
Highest Court E.D. Michigan
Year Ended 2009
Plaintiffs Copyright Owner(s)
Defendants Latimer, Charlie
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Plaintiff is the assignee of a collection of songs by Charlie Latimer, a Detroit-area musician whose local star-power never transferred to the national stage. When Latimer, after signing away his rights, released "Through the Years," a compilation of his songs, including some assigned to Plaintiff, Plaintiff sued. Latimer, representing himself pro se, admitted most of the charges, but cried duress. While the court found he had not properly stated his duress defense, it referred Latimer's cause to the Michigan Trial Lawyers Pro Bono Program. - LSW


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10. Stormy Weather for Doo Wop Song (II)
Highest Court Seventh Circuit
Year Ended 2009
Plaintiffs Songwriter(s)
Defendants Band Member(s)
Individual(s)
Lawyer(s)
Nonprofit Organization(s)
Record Label(s)
Other Stormy Weather
Short Description This "over-litigated" case was mired by subpar lawyering and excessive legal filings, turning what could have been a rather straightforward copyright lawsuit into a pathetic symphony of sanctions, bogus motions, and attorneys' fees. The case revolves around the song "The Wonders of Indiana," written and performed by the Gary, Indiana doo-wop group, Stormy Weather. The band's leader Henry Farag, told the band that an Indiana visitors' center was interested in a song about the state, and songwriter, Cheryl Janky, took to the task of penning the tune. After some small changes were made, at Farag's suggestion, Janky regsitered the song in both of their names. When the song was released on CD, used at the visitors center, and included as "hold music" for the center's phone lines, Janky adjusted her registration to remove Farag's name and filed a copyright infringement lawsuit. A slew of motions, appeals, etc., followed, many of which pertained to procedural issues or to the numerous sanctions granted against Janky and her lawyers. These are well summarized in "Stormy Weather for Doo Wop Song (II)." At trial, Defendants presented various theories as defenses, including 1) the song was a work-for-hire, and thus owned by the visitors center or Farag and 2) the song was co-authored by Farag and Janky, as evidenced by her initial copyright registration naming Farag. After many motions were filed by Plaintiffs and denied, around $50,000 in sanctions were levied against Plaintiff and her lawyers (possibly more, since it's difficult to discern) over the course of this lawsuit. At trial, the jury returned a verdict for Janky, finding Defendants liable for $100,000 in damages, though around $15,000 in sanctions (against Janky herself) offset that amount. After more appeals and an alternate lawsuit was filed ("Stormy Weather for Doo Wop Song (II)"), the case found itself in the federal Court of Appeals. There, the court reversed the lower verdict in Plaintiff's favor, finding the song was co-authored by Janky and Farag; though Janky denied as much, the court held that the song was written with mutual intentions to be merged into an inseparable whole, and that Farag's contributions were independently copyrightable. The case was reversed and remanded, and Janky--facing tens of thousands of dollars in sanctions--seemed S.O.L. - LSW


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11. Yngwie's Manager Embezzled?
Highest Court S.D. New York
Year Ended 2009
Plaintiffs Malmsteen, Yngwie
Defendants Music Manager(s)
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Yngwie Malmsteen, despite having the least pronounceable first name in the history of guitar virtuosos, rose to fame during the 1980s "hair metal" explosion. Malmsteen sued his ex-managers for numerous causes of action, including malpractice, fraud, contract breach, breach of fiduciary duties, and sought numerous equitable remedies. After the trial court and jury found for Malmsteen, in the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars the appellate courts affirmed. - [This entry is not yet complete or has not been edited/checked.]


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12. 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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13. Parlet: P-Funk's Project
Highest Court C.D. California
Year Ended 2008
Plaintiffs Clinton, George
Defendants Universal Music Group
Universal Records
Other Business Entity of Artist(s)
Casablanca Records
Parlet
Parliament-Funkadelic
Polygram Records
Short Description George Clinton, well-known funk/soul/dance superstar and godfather, signed various production and recording agreements with Universal Music and its affiliates, both as an individual and as a producer for other artists. Of relevance here, Clinton also signed an artist, Parlet, to the label as well. In the contracts, a three year Objections Provision and Limitations Provision designated the time frame in which he could contest royalty payments. According to these provisons, he could contest payments through "specificied objections" and could bring legal action only within three years after statements were rendered. When Clinton audited Defendants' royalty payments, he concluded he was owed over $32 million (quite an oversight). Defendants did not respond to Clinton's audit, so he sued for various causes of action, including contracts, unjust enrichment, and equitable theories for relief. Defendants sought to dismiss the complaint, citing the provisions above. The court found the contractual limitations period barred all of Clinton's claims related to Parliament-related royalties; he had not filed his complaint within three years, but had merely sent letters alerting Defendants that specific objections would be forthcoming. Even if he had specifically objected to the complaints within the time period, his lack of legal action was damning. However, the Parlet agreement was not produced by either party, so summary judgment regarding those royalties was premature, but the court eventually ruled in Defendants' favor regarding that agreement as well, in part because of previously signed release. - LSW


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14. Moondog's Publishers Fight It Out
Highest Court Second Circuit
Year Ended 2008
Plaintiffs Music Publisher(s)
Defendants Music Publisher(s)
Other Moondog
Mr. Scruff
Short Description Both Plaintiff and Defendant are co-publishers for the avant guarde "jazz" street musician, known as Moondog. Dog granted Plaintiff copyright ownership, but the court held that he did not grant renewal terms, as the contract was unambiguous in its terms and extrinsic evidence was not allowed. However, regarding exploitation of the copyrighted works before the expiration of the first term, Defendant, as co-owner, may nevertheless owe Plaintiff an accounting and back-royalties. Affirmed on appeal. - LSW


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15. Junior Walker's Family vs. Motown
Highest Court California Court of Appeal
Year Ended 2008
Plaintiffs Family of Artist(s)
Defendants Jobete Music
Other Walker, Junior
Short Description Plaintiffs were heirs to Autry De Walt's (Junior Walker's) recording legacy, and filed suit instate court against Jobete Music, a publishing company, requesting a declaration that certain "single song" publishing agreements Junior Walker signed in the 1960s did not convey copyright renewal interests. If Plaintiffs' suit were successful, they would, as his heirs, receive the rights to the songs' renewal terms. However, after a trial on the merits, the jury found that Plainitffs' main thrust was moot, since Walker plainly entered subsequent contracts superseding the earlier agreements and these later contracts explicitly provided for a transfer of renewal rights. Furthermore, the jury found that Jobete had not failed to pay Walker and his heirs royalties under the later agreements. On appeal, Plaintiffs, who brought their suit in state court, now argued the court lacked jurisdiction, as the issue was one of copyright, and thus within exclusively federal jurisdiction. The appellate court was unsympathetic to Plaintiffs' shift in perspective; the jury was not asked to decide any issues of copyright jurispridence, but only to decipher conractual language. Judgment for Defendants affirmed. - LSW


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16. Author: "You Infringed My Book About You!"
Highest Court E.D. Texas
Year Ended 2008
Plaintiffs Estate of Author(s)
Defendants Band Member(s)
Other Book Author(s)
Four Seasons
Short Description Writer and Defendant, a member of the band the Four Seasons, agreed that the former would author a book about the latter's life and both would be listed as co-authors. After the book was finished, they could not secure a publisher, and the Defendant author died. Author's heirs learned that the musical Jersey Boys was based on the book, and sued for declaratory judgment of co-ownership, asking for an accounting and profits. Defendant sought to transfer venue to the federal district court in Las Vegas, Nevada, which was granted by the court. - LSW & SKR


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17. Website Pilfers Publicity Rights
Highest Court N.D. California
Year Ended 2007
Plaintiffs Arista Records
Densmore, John
Family of Artist(s)
Grateful Dead
Kreiger, Robby
Led Zeppelin
Manzarek, Ray
Santana, Carlos
Sony BMG Music Entertainment
Defendants Bill Graham Archives
Individual(s)
Music Merchandiser(s)
Website Proprietor(s)
Other Courson, Pamela
Doors
Graham, Bill
Short Description Defendants run the website Wolfgang's Vault (wolfgangsvault.com), which acquired the rights to numerous Bill Graham-sponsored concert materials, such as posters and flyers, as well as videotapes of live performances. Plaintiffs included Carlos Santana and members of Led Zeppelin, the Doors, the Grateful Dead, and various associated entities, such as record labels, with whom Plaintiffs had exclusive contracts. When Defendant began selling its acquired stock of materials, Plaintiffs sued for publicity violations, trademark infringement, and numerous other related causes of action (just look at the attached legal issues list). These opinions, however, do not discuss the substantive merits, but instead partially grant Plaintiffs' motions to compel production of discovery requests. The Vault's website is still up, still offering materials like those described in this lawsuit, so presumably this case settled. - LSW


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18. Co-writer vs. Slim Thug
Highest Court S.D. Texas
Year Ended 2007
Plaintiffs Copyright Owner(s)
Defendants Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI)
EMI Music
Jones, Mike
Slim Thug
Wall, Paul
Watts, Michael "5000"
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Co-author of an early version of "Still Tippin'," the song that made Slim Thug a well-known rap artist, sued when the chorus hook was re-used in the song that was publicly released. The court found that joint authorship in a work does not imply joint authorship in derivative works, and further that Plaintiff's state law claims were preempted by the Copyright Act. - LSW


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19. Producers Fight Over Christian Singer
Highest Court W.D. Washington
Year Ended 2007
Plaintiffs Individual(s)
Music Producer(s)
Defendants Individual(s)
Music Producer(s)
Other Judah, Brian
Short Description Two different production companies, seemingly wacky evangelical Christians, fought over the spoils of Christian singer Brian Judah's subsequent success. - [This entry is not yet complete or has not been edited/checked.]


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20. Loretta Lynn vs. Music Publisher
Highest Court Sixth Circuit
Year Ended 2007
Plaintiffs Lynn, Loretta
Defendants Music Publisher(s)
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Loretta Lynn is a longstanding country superstar whose career dates back to the 1960s and continues until today. This lawsuit arose from a music publishing contract she signed in 1961, at the beginning of her career, with Defendant Sure-Fire Music. According to the agreement, the relationship would cease if Defendant's ownership changed hands, as Lynn wished to retain assocation with specific management. By 2003, only two of the original owners still controlled the company, and Lynn believed this meant their agreement was at an end. She sued in state court alleging various causes of action, principally a declaratory judgment that her copyrights were no longer owned by Defendants, but also alleging breach of contract and good faith/fair dealing and conversion. In state court, Defendants successfully argued the action was federal in nature and thus completely preempted by the Copyright Act. Lynn filed the same suit in federal court, who decided the action was state-based after all, and dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Seeking to avoid re-litigation, Defendants appealed, arguing federal jurisdiction existed. The Circuit Court disagreed and affirmed the dismissal. Under the "equivalency" test for federal preemption, the court found Lynn's actions were not merely rephrasing copyright theories, but were based on contract interpretation, contract breach, and property ownership. Dismissal affirmed. - LSW


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