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1. Yodeling for Royalties
Highest Court W.D. Texas
Year Ended 2011
Plaintiffs Estate of Artist(s)
Family of Artist(s)
Defendants Antone's Records
Music Executive(s)
Record Label(s)
Other Walser, Don
Watermelon Records
Short Description Country musician Don Walser, known for his distinctive yodeling, signed an agreement with Watermelon Records, a little-known Austin-based country music record label, in 1994, only four years before the label went bankrupt and its assets were purchased by Defendant, Antone's Records, who, as luck would have it, later filed for bankruptcy itself. The latter bankruptcy underlies this dispute, brought by Walser's estate and family, alleging various causes of action against Antone's and associated entities, including breach of contract and fiduciary duties, fraud, and copyright infringement, requesting rescission, constructive trust, and piercing of the corporate veil. According to the court, it is undisputed that Defendants failed to tender appropriate royalties and royalty-statements to Walser, after assuming Watermelon's contracts. Though Plaintiffs were unable to state claims arising from Watermelon Records' bankruptcy and failure to pay Walser, the court allowed breach of contract claims against Defendants arising from their own failure to pay. The court found that Walser had performed fully under the agreement, but that Defendants plainly failed to live up to their part of the bargain, and did not cure their breach within 30 days of being warned by Walser's attorney; in this regard, Defendants were liable for around $30,000. Because monetary remedies were adequate, rescission of the fully-performed contract was not allowed, and, further, Plaintiff's claims for fraud and copyright infringement failed too. Further still, Plaintiffs were unable to show that any form of fiduciary relationship arose between Walser and the various record labels with whom he was contractually tied, inter alia, because Texas law has not found such a relationship between artist and label, and no relationship of trust otherwise existed. The court refused to hold the record labels' executives personally liable, finding that traditional doctrines like the "alter ego" test did not apply. Though most claims were denied, the contract breach claim resulted in a $30,000 award. - LSW


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2. 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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3. 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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4. Who Owns "Expose" Mark?
Highest Court S.D. Florida
Year Ended 2009
Plaintiffs Music Producer(s)
Record Label(s)
Defendants Band Member(s)
Music Promoter(s)
Talent Agent(s)
Other Expos?
Short Description This is a trademark dispute between the band Expose (an all-girl, early 1990s singing group) and a film company that owns a trademark in the name for music performance-related products, regarding ownership of the name. During settlement negotiations between the band and Plaintiff's predecessor-in-interest during the mid-1990s, the band admitted Plaintiff's predecessor owned the name, and entered a trademark license agreement stating as much. In 2007, the band's legal counsel sent a letter saying Plaintiffs did not actually own the name, stating that the band would seek to register it for themselves. Plaintiffs brought suit for trademark infringement and unfair competition, among numerous other related causes of action. The band's entities counterclaimed, alleging the earlier settlements were induced by fraud, and requesting rescission of the settlement. After venue was found to be proper, the court held that--while the contract cannot be rescinded because Plaintiff was not a party to settlement negotiations, but merely purchased the name from that party--Defendants' counterclaim for fraud was validly stated. Justifiable reliance required further fact-finding, and could not be dismissed summarily. - LSW


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5. 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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6. 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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7. 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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8. 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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9. 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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10. Songwriter's Estate Troubles
Highest Court Court of Appeals of Ohio
Year Ended 2008
Plaintiffs Family of Artist(s)
Defendants Estate of Artist(s)
Executor of Estate(s)
Other Perry, Wayne
Short Description Wayne Perry, like many other professional songwriters, is not very well-known among the massive public that has enjoyed his work and purchased millions upon millions of albums containing his output. His songs have been recorded by artists like the Backstreet Boys, Tim Mcgraw, and others. This case, which followed his death, concerns the distribution of his will and life insurance policy. By will, distributions were paid exclusively to his trust, for which his children were sole beneficiaries. His life insurance, however, originally designated his ex-wife, but was later changed to a different woman, who was also designated the executrix of his estate. When she was distributed benefits under the life insurance policy, Perry's heirs contested, alleging she'd wrongly "secreted" accounts that should have been distributed by his estate to his trust, and thus to them. The court disagreed with the heirs' contention, holding, inter alia, that life insurance policies, unless otherwise specified, are not to be included in the estate, and Perry gave no indication he intended the proceeds to be distributed to his executrix in her administrative capacity, not as an individual. Furthermore, nothing indicated the policy's beneficiary should be removed as executrix, and the probate court's finding should not be disturbed. Other issues, such as the executrix's initial partial account and the inclusion of songs co-written by her son, were similarly overruled in accordance with the probate decision below. - LSW


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11. Richie Ramone vs. Ramones (II)
Highest Court New York Supreme Court
Year Ended 2008
Plaintiffs Former Band Member(s)
Defendants Estate of Artist(s)
Financial Professional(s)
Music Publisher(s)
Ramones
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Richie Ramone was to the Ramones what Vinnie Vincent was to KISS: an itinerant member whose contributions were later outweighed by the legal problems arising from his brief association (look Vinnie up to see his suits). After an earlier dispute arose regarding Richie's royalties, he settled with Defendants in the early 2000s, but alleged payments did not continue as required. Here, Richie sued the estate of Johnny Ramone, the Ramones business entity, music publishers, and various others involved in the band's financial matters, arising from a supposed underpayment of royalties according to a contract signed in 1984 (despite the 2002 settlement). In addition to unpaid royalties, Richie alleged fraud, negligent misrepresentation, fiduciary breaches, and others theories. The court held that, other than his direct claim against the Ramones for underpaying royalties (and even this was limited to the statutory period and earlier settlement), his complaints must be dismissed. He failed to allege fraud or any special circumstances giving rise to fiduciary duties. Johnny Ramone, for instance, was merely a member and co-distributee of the royalties, and never made any representations to Richie regarding his role in the band. The case proceeded, though on very limited grounds. - LSW


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12. 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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13. Debra Laws vs. J-Lo & L.L.
Highest Court Ninth Circuit
Year Ended 2006
Plaintiffs Laws, Debra
Defendants Epic Records
Sony Music
Other LL Cool J
Lopez, Jennifer
Short Description Debra Laws, an American R&B singer, sued Jennifer Lopez and LL Cool J for violation of publicity after the latter used Plaintiff's voice in song. Defendants had obtained a valid license for the copyright, and therefore the action was preempted by copyright law. - [This entry is not yet complete or has not been edited/checked.]


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14. BBC Suit Over Zeppelin Masterrights
Highest Court Superior Court of Maine
Year Ended 2006
Plaintiffs Music Publisher(s)
Defendants British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)
Other Led Zeppelin
Short Description In a lawsuit over a previously settled "master rights" agreement, Led Zeppelin's publisher sued the BBC over non-adherence. Plaintiff's motion to amend complaint granted. - [This entry is not yet complete or has not been edited/checked.]


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15. Former Employee vs. Puffy (III)
Highest Court New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division
Year Ended 2006
Plaintiffs Individual(s)
Defendants Bad Boy Entertainment
Combs, Sean
Other Blige, Mary J.
Short Description The Plaintiff was a close friend of the Defendant, Sean Combs. The Plaintiff worked at Bad Boy, Comb's record company, in administrative, marketing, and A&R roles. In 1993, Combs supposedly gave the Plaintiff shares of Bad Boy and significant raises until 1997. The Plaintiff alleged in 1996 that Combs threatened him with a baseball bat in order to have the Plaintiff return the shares back to Combs. In 1997, Combs fired the Plaintiff, right as the Plaintiff was becoming Mary J. Blige's manager. The Plaintiff alleged that Combs tortiously intimidated him into giving up shares in Bad Boy Entertainment as well as interfered with potential clients. The Plaintiff also sued Combs for RICO violations in Federal Court ("Former Employee vs. Puffy (II)"), but those claims were dismissed. The Defendants' motion to stay the proceedings until the contemporaneous federal claims could be appealed was granted. This advantaged the Defendant because the claims in this lawsuit were being appealed in the federal suit. - JMC


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16. Kid Rock's 1st Producer: "Breach!" (II)
Highest Court E.D. Michigan
Year Ended 2006
Plaintiffs Music Manager(s)
Music Producer(s)
Music Publisher(s)
Defendants Atlantic Records
Kid Rock
Top Dog Records
Warner-Tamerlane Music
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Plaintiff alleged that Kid Rock violated RICO laws for taking part in an illegal extortion scheme by laundering and exploiting his intellectual property. Specifically, the alleged illegal extortion scheme consisted of Kid Rock's successful defense of Plaintiff's previous trademark claim regarding the "Top Dog" trademark used by Kid Rock for his record label. Despite Kid Rock's having successfully demonstrated his ownership of the "Top Dog" trademark in previous litigation, Plaintiff effectively tried to pursue his claim once again, but under RICO laws. The court was not pleased with this, and granted Kid Rock's motion for summary judgment and for sanctions against Plaintiff. - SKR


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17. Dizzy's Nonmarital Kid Wants In
Highest Court S.D. New York
Year Ended 2005
Plaintiffs Family of Artist(s)
Defendants Family of Artist(s)
Music Publisher(s)
Other Gillespie, Dizzy
Short Description Plaintiff claimed to be the Illegitimate daughter of jazz great Dizzy Gillespie. Her mother was acquainted with Gillespie in the 1950s. According to Plaintiff, she "always knew" Dizzy was her father, and, indeed, a family court in the 1960s ordered Dizzy to make child support payments, which he did for fourteen years, until Plaintiff reached the age of 18. Plaintiff has since become a singer and often touted her parentage in communications to the press. In 2000, seven years after Gillespie passed away, Plaintiff sued for a declaration of ownership in various renewal rights to her father's copyrighted songs. Even with a liberal view of the accrual of the action, Plaintiff had three years from 1993--according to the Copyright Act's statute of limitations--when Gillespie died and his attorney publicly stated he had no children, to bring her action. The court held that, where Plaintiff's knowledge of her parentage were not truly in question, despite the attorney's comments, the statute of limitations barred all claims arising therefrom, including those within the three years before her complaint. Had parentage been uncertain, it is feasible the statute of limitations may have been tolled in her benefit (as other cases have found). But here, Plaintiff's action was time-barred entirely. For the history of this legal doctrine, referenced in the opinion, see "Lymon's Teenagers Sue Lymon." - LSW


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18. Vinnie Vincent Wants In (II)
Highest Court Ninth Circuit
Year Ended 2005
Plaintiffs Music Publisher(s)
Vincent, Vinnie
Defendants KISS
Music Publisher(s)
Polygram Records
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description The band KISS was sued several times by their brief guitarist, Vinnie Vincent, for various contractual issues. Vincent joined the band during their no-make-up phase and never had his own make-up design. Despite the ridiculous number of lawsuits Vincent brought against the band, all counts dismissed. - [This entry is not yet complete or has not been edited/checked.]


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19. Vinnie Vincent Wants In (I)
Highest Court Second Circuit
Year Ended 2005
Plaintiffs Music Publisher(s)
Vincent, Vinnie
Defendants KISS
Music Publisher(s)
Polygram Records
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Case description not yet available


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20. Vandellas Want Royalties
Highest Court Sixth Circuit
Year Ended 2005
Plaintiffs Martha and the Vandellas
Defendants Royalty Collector(s)
Universal Music Group
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description The Vandellas (as in Martha and the Vandellas) sued Artists Recording Enforcement Corp., the company that helped them win their royalties from Motown, for withholding royalties from the group after success at trial. - [This entry is not yet complete or has not been edited/checked.]


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