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1. Does Madonna Owe Money?
Highest Court M.D. Louisiana
Year Ended 2011
Plaintiffs Investor(s)
Defendants Film Producer(s)
Film Studio(s)
Madonna
Maverick Films
Music Manager(s)
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Plaintiffs lent money to Madonna and her film company, Maverick Films, as well as various other individuals and entities associated with Madonna's film endeavors, which were in need of financing. After Defendants did not repay Plaintiffs' loans, Plaintiff sued all the parties for contract breach, unjust enrichment, detrimental reliance, unfair trade practices, and conversion. Maverick Films defaulted, and a default judgment was entered against them. (Various other procedural and evidentiary rulings were undertaken during 2009-2010, which are not discussed herein). On Madonna's and her manager's motions to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, the court found in their favor. First, her manager had not submitted to jurisdiction by appearing at Maverick's default hearing, because he contested to jurisdiction all along. Second, there was no jurisdiction over either Madonna or her manager, neither individually nor as corporate officers. Their personal presence within Louisiana was minimal, Madonna having performed there sometime in the 1980s, and their recent contacts with the state were all within their capacities as corporate officers, which does not subject them to personal jurisdiction as individuals. Furthermore, the court would not "pierce the corporate veil" and find jurisdiction over them personally, because Plaintiff did not adequately illustrate that their corporations were mere alter egos or vehicles by which Madonna and Co. perpetuated fraud. Though a default judgment was entered against Maverick, the cause was dismissed for lack of personal jurisdiction as to Madonna, et. al. - LSW


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2. Akon Ignores Investment?
Highest Court N.D. Georgia
Year Ended 2011
Plaintiffs Investor(s)
Defendants Akon
Konvict Muzik
Music Executive(s)
Other Glowb
Short Description Plaintiff is apparently an investor that loaned $400,000 to a Konvict Muzik, a multifaceted music company co-founded by hop-hop artist Akon. Plaintiff signed a contract with the other co-founder, who was acting on behalf of one of the many limited liability companies operating under Konvict's umbrella. The money was loaned for the development of a hip-hop group called Glowb. The Defendants in this case included many different Konvict-related companies (and Akon himself), not just the company with which the contract was signed, even though the contract itself contained language limiting the agreement to the undersigned parties. Despite liberal pleading requirements, the court granted Defendants' motion to dismiss on the pleadings. Plaintiff's breach of contract action was dismissed because Plaintiff never signed a contract with most Defendants, and the signatory was not acting as Defendants' agent when signing. Conversion was dismissed because Plaintiff did not sufficiently allege that Defendants ever received or had actual possession of the loaned funds; fraud and unjust enrichment were dismissed for the same reason. Though it seems Defendants did indeed wrong Plaintiff, Plaintiff will need to learn how and whom to sue, if Plaintiff wants remuneration. - LSW


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3. Songwriter's Royalties in a Bind
Highest Court California Court of Appeal
Year Ended 2011
Plaintiffs Financial Institution(s)
Defendants Financial Institution(s)
Pullman, David
Other Page, Gene
Short Description This lawsuit is one of several over the last few years involving the financial transaction of David Pullman, a somewhat well-known figure in the music industry for his role in creating so-called "Bowie Bonds," named after David Bowie, the artist who first used them. Bowie Bonds are investment vehicles wherein purchasers buy debt from recording artists, to be repaid, with interest, through royalty payments owed to the artist. This lawsuit appears to involve this same sort of transaction regarding the royalty interests of songwriter Gene Page. Page's family took loans from Plaintiff, a financial company that loans money to artists to be repaid from royalties, but was also involved, to some extent, with Pullman and his entities. Pullman's parties offered to investigate some suspect financial transactions between Plaintiff and Page's family, including a loan to a family member of Plaintiff's owners, and Plaintiff assigned to Pullman the rights to do so. After Pullman brought suit against Plaintiffs for numerous causes of action, including conversion, fraud, interference, civil conspiracy, and numerous equitable actions not specifically listed in this entry, Plaintiff sought to enforce an arbitration agreement contained in one, and only one, of the many loan agreements between Plaintiff and the Pages. The American Arbitration Association (AAA) found the arbitration agreement enforceable, and the parties submitted to arbitration, which ended in Pullman/Page's favor for over $1/2 million. This lawsuit was brought by Plaintiff to vacate the arbitration award, alleging no court of law ever found the agreement binding. Though the AAA had upheld the provision, the court agreed and concluded that no court of law had upheld it, and thus the arbitration was not binding. If a party objects to arbitration, the resulting award cannot be binding absent a judicial determination. The award was vacated, and a court must now determine whether arbitration is mandatory. - LSW


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4. Guy Mitchell's Royalty Collection
Highest Court E.D. Washington
Year Ended 2011
Plaintiffs Trust of Artist(s)
Defendants Artists Rights Enforcement Corp. (AREC)
Other Mitchell, Guy
Short Description The Artists Rights Enforcement Corp. (AREC) is an entity formed to assist musicians and songwriters in obtaining the royalties they are owed from various music contracts, whether with publishers or record labels. AREC has been sued by a number of artists and their families alleging that AREC withheld royalties owed to them. In this case, the family trust established to handle the assets of American pop singer Guy Mitchell sued AREC for withholding royalties purportedly collected on the trust's behalf. AREC argued that the Washington court had no personal jurisdiction over them, because they were a New York-based company that did not have sufficient ties to Washington state. However, the court disagreed. Specific personal jurisdiction existed where Defendants created a "continuing obligation" to collect royalties on behalf of a Washington resident, even if no Defendant had ever entered Washington to create the obligation. Furthermore, the stated wrongs--such as misrepresentation and fraud--were made to a Washington resident, and thus Washington is where the harm was felt. Plaintiff met the requirements that the instant lawsuit "arose from" Defendants' "purposeful availment" of the state, and, further, exercising jurisdiction would not be unreasonable. - LSW


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5. Photographer: "Marley Photos Are Mine!"
Highest Court California Court of Appeal
Year Ended 2010
Plaintiffs Photographer(s)
Defendants Individual(s)
Music Merchandiser(s)
Other Marley, Bob
Short Description In a different case, "Bob Marley Bootleggers Busted," Defendant A.V.E.L.A., a music merchandiser, was sued by the exclusive licensee of Bob Marley's publicity rights and trademarks for improperly using Marley's likeness and names on various merchandise. This related case was brought by the photographer who provided the infringing photographs to A.V.E.L.A. After the first lawsuit erupted, A.V.E.L.A. withheld royalty payments to Plaintiff, alleging any payments he was due to receive were offset by their litigation costs from the Marley lawsuit. Plaintiff alleged that Defendants' legal issues were unrelated to his own responsibilities under the parties' agreements, and costs should not have been counted against him. Plaintiff asked for and was granted a preliminary injunction preventing A.V.E.L.A. from using moneys owed to Plaintiff to cover legal costs from the other suit. On appeal, the injunction was affirmed. The injunction was not overly broad; though the licensing agreement dictated amounts Plaintiff was to be paid, Defendants were not able to show that these were the only amounts he would be granted if successful. Furthermore, the appellate court did not find the trial court abused its discretion in finding both that Plaintiff would suffer irreparable harm without injunctive relief and that there was a reasonable probability that Plaintiff would prevail on his claim. - LSW


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6. Contract with Chipmunks Breached
Highest Court California Court of Appeal
Year Ended 2010
Plaintiffs Business Entity of Artist(s)
Defendants Capitol Records
Other Bogdasarian, Ross
Chipmunks
Short Description Alvin and the Chipmunks first came to prominence during the 1960s, but long after their creator died, his son revived the business in the 1980s, which turned out to be immensely popular among kids of the day and ever since. This lawsuit arose from a contract signed in 1968 between Ross Bagdasarian, the Chipmunk's creator, and Capitol Records, the successor-in-interest to Liberty Records, with whom Bagdasarian agreed the Chipmunk's albums would be made. However, over the years since, Capitol has licensed the sound recordings for many other purposes, such as background music in television and movies. This lawsuit alleged that such licensing overstepped the terms of the contract, which only provided Capitol the rights to make phonograph reproductions. Despite the 40 years that had passed since the contracts were signed, the court held that Plaintiff's actions were not barred by statutes of limitation or the doctrine of laches. Furthermore, the court interpreted the contract according to Plaintiff's reading; the agreement only gave Defendant permission to make records, but not to license the songs. Defendants' extrinsic evidence only reinforced this interpretation. Though copyrights do not apply to pre-1972 sound recordings, such as those subject to the 1968 contract, Plaintiff's intangible property right in the recordings were based in a California statute preventing "plagiarism" under an unfair competition rubric. The appellate court reversed the trial court's finding for Defendant as a matter of law. - LSW


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7. Which Grupo Bryndis is Legit?
Highest Court W.D. Texas
Year Ended 2010
Plaintiffs Band Member(s)
Business Entity of Artist(s)
Defendants Band Member(s)
Other Grupo Bryndis
Short Description Grupo Bryndis is an internationally-known Mexican musical group that has existed in some form continuously since 1983. Plaintiffs in this case are the band's recognized leader and the corporation he controls. Despite the band's successes, it appears no one had ever applied for and received a federal trademark for their name. Defendants are former members of the group who formed a new band, initially called Bohemios de Bryndis, that later began billing itself as Grupo Bryndis, and then filed a trademark application for the name. Plaintiff sued for numerous trademark- and property-related causes of action, requesting a preliminary injunction preventing the band from using the name further. The court found that, despite the confusion that might occur among the band's fans due to two different bands using the same name, monetary damages were sufficient to remedy any harm done to Plaintiff, and thus a preliminary injunction, which requires irreparable harm causing damage that cannot be cured by adequate remedies at law, was inappropriate. - LSW


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8. Avengers Want Vengeance
Highest Court N.D. California
Year Ended 2010
Plaintiffs Avengers
Defendants Music Executive(s)
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description The Avengers were a first-wave American punk rock band, active in the late 1970s in San Francisco, where they famously opened for the Sex Pistols at the Pistols' last show. The Avengers' lead singer, Penelope Houston, had a rather impressive solo career thereafter, releasing several major label albums during the 1990s. This case concerns the distribution of the band's retrospective, usually called "The Pink Album," which was released by Defendant's record label in the early 1990s and sold around 100,000 copies. Plaintiffs, former members of the band, alleged that Defendant never paid Plaintiffs royalties from "Pink," and that they rescinded the agreement, meaning he had no rights to distribute the recordings anymore; that Plaintiffs terminated their publishing agreements with Defendant, but Defendant continues to exploit the songs; that Defendant had no right to distribute copies of their performance from the Pistol's last show; and that Defendant made false representations to third parties in securing distribution. The band sued for copyright infringement, fraud, conversion, and various forms of declaratory relief. The court dismissed Plaintiffs' claims for declaration of copyright ownership, finding they were duplicative of copyright infringement claims, but allowed the band's declaratory judgment regarding Defendant's release of their concert album, saying the claim was not preempted by the Copyright Act, but was an issue of contract. Claims for fraud were dismissed as not properly pleaded, as were claims for conversion, because no actual property was pinpointed as being converted. Plaintiffs' infringement claims were not at issue in this opinion. - LSW


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9. 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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10. 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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11. Latifah's Movies Copy Plaintiff's?
Highest Court S.D. New York
Year Ended 2009
Plaintiffs Scriptwriter(s)
Defendants Buena Vista Pictures
Film Distributor(s)
Film Producer(s)
Individual(s)
Queen Latifah
Walt Disney
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Writer of script for movie Amoral Dilemma sued makers of Bringing Down the House, including Queen Latifah, who starred in the film, alleging the film substantially copied Plaintiff's work. The District Court dismissed Plaintiffs complaint numerous times... - [This entry is not yet complete or has not been edited/checked.]


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12. Mary Parks: "My Smooth Voice Ain't Free!"
Highest Court S.D. New York
Year Ended 2008
Plaintiffs Parks, Mary
Defendants ABC Records
MCA/Universal Music
UMG Records
Universal Studios
Verve Records
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Singer/songwriter sued for lack of royalties due from songs written and performed on jazz albums during the 1960s. - [This entry is not yet complete or has not been edited/checked.]


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13. Booker Books Alicia in Nigeria
Highest Court S.D. New York
Year Ended 2008
Plaintiffs Talent Agent(s)
Defendants Music Promoter(s)
Other Keys, Alicia
Short Description The Plaintiff is talent agency that may or may not have entered a deal with the Defendants to share booking fees for a festival held in Lagos, Nigeria. The deal also extended to other events, including an Alicia Keys' concert. Also, the Defendants alleged that they never received payment from the Plaintiff for the Keys' concert. The Defendants' motion for summary judgment was partially granted for the on-going deal because it would violate the Statute of Frauds. Contracts that will take over a year to be performed must be in writing to be upheld against a party. The Court rejected the Plaintiff's argument that the deals were no an on-going contract but rather discrete projects, which by their nature would be performed within a year. The Court also found the deal did not create a joint venture, which because it is terminable at will is not covered by the Statute of Frauds. The Court granted the Plaintiffs' motion to amend its complaint and found that there were issues of fact concerning the payments regarding the Nigerian concert. - JMC


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14. Suit Over "Man's Man's World" (II)
Highest Court S.D. New York
Year Ended 2007
Plaintiffs Copyright Owner(s)
Defendants Individual(s)
Lawyer(s)
Newsome, Betty Jean
Other Brown, James
Short Description Plaintiff, Clarence Jackson, published and copyrighted a song called "It's a Man's World" that was later infringed by James Brown, leading to a lawsuit ending in a settlement (in the 1960s). This case, around 40 years later, arises from an odd set of facts in which Plaintiff's son, coincidentally named Michael Jackson, along with high profile entertainment lawyer William Krasilovsky, oversaw Plaintiff's transfer of interests in the song to Michael, who then transferred it to Warner/Chappell. Plaintiff argues Defendants fraudulently induced the contract, breached fiduciary duties, wrongfully converted his property, and therefore violated his copyright interest. The court found that Plaintiff had willingly assigned his interest in the song (via an uncomplicated one-page contract) to his son, who then transferred it to Defendant. Since Plaintiff could not reasonably have misunderstood the contents of the paper, there can be no fraud, conversion, etc., and thus no copyright infringement or ownership issues. See also "Suit Over 'Man's Man's World' (I)." - LSW


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15. 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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16. Labels Fight Over No-Name Rapper
Highest Court Court of Appeal of Louisiana
Year Ended 2007
Plaintiffs Record Label(s)
Defendants Mr. Wicked
Music Producer(s)
Record Label(s)
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description A good example of how litigation and contractual disagreements are not only common amongst the rich and famous, this case is between several small hip-hop production houses and record labels over the services of an unknown rapper, Mr. Wicked. Wicked had signed with Plaintiff, but later appeared on releases by defendants, such as the CD "Ghetto Booty." the appellate court held Defendants were not aware whether there was a valid contract with Plaintiff, and reversed the lower court's favorable ruling for Plaintiff on the conversion claim, finding for Defendants on all claims. - LSW


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17. Former Zippers vs. Squirrel Nut Zippers
Highest Court M.D. North Carolina
Year Ended 2007
Plaintiffs Former Band Member(s)
Defendants Music Manager(s)
Squirrel Nut Zippers
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description In this suit between members of the band the Squirrel Nut Zippers, including the partnership and associated entities, Plaintiffs allege they have not only been underpaid royalties according to the agreement, but were fraudulently induced to sign a liability release. After asserting a wide variety of causes, the court dismissed RICO and Unfair Trade Practice Act claims, allowing claims for fraud, conversion, and breach of contract, despite the alleged waiver. - LSW


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18. Biz Markie's Sampling Problem (IV)
Highest Court E.D. Pennsylvania
Year Ended 2006
Plaintiffs Record Label(s)
Songwriter(s)
Defendants Biz Markie
Business Entity of Artist(s)
Tommy Boy Records
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Biz Markie was sued for illegally sampling a bass drum and a "reggae rap" from the Plaintiff's song "Bounce." The court denied Biz Markie's motion to dismiss for failure to prosecute, as the court held Plaintiff to a more relaxed standard as a pro se litigant. The court allowed the case to go forward with discovery. - SKR


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19. Songwriter's Ex Wants Money
Highest Court Sixth Circuit
Year Ended 2006
Plaintiffs Spouse of Artist(s)
Defendants Davis, Stephen Allen
Other Rich, Charlie
Sledge, Percy
Short Description Steven Allen Davis was a successful songwriter, among his best-known compositions are Charlie Rich's smash hit "The Most Beautiful Girl" and Percy Sledge's "Take Time to Know Her." In the 1970s, Davis co-wrote, along with his then (now ex-) wife, who is the Plaintiff in this suit, a song called "Mama McCluskie." This song was later adjusted by Davis and others and released as Rich's song "The Most Beautiful Girl." Plaintiff heard the song and thought it had been copied from their co-written composition. Davis's publisher, Al Gallico, however, acted in a very shady manner, telling Davis's ex-wife that Davis had not written the song, while at the same time telling Davis that he'd be "taken care of" by his publisher if she sued. In their divorce decree, Plaintiff was not awarded any share of Davis's songwriting royalties. Years later, Al Gallico publicly stated in an interview that "Beautiful Girl" was a copy of "McCluskie," and Davis sued, alleging fraud. Davis's ex-wife was alerted of the lawsuit by her lawyers, at which time Davis allegedly admitted to Plaintiff, in a "confessional" phone call, that he'd defrauded Plaintiff to prevent her from getting anything from their divorce. While Davis's actions against Gallico were time-barred, Plaintiffs actions against both Davis and Gallico were not so easily dismissed. The court held that the "discovery" rule regarding accruals of causes of action could lead to the conclusion that her action did not accrue until the "confessional" call from Davis, and not her earlier inquiry in the 1970s. Since issues of fact regarding when her action accrued still existed, the action could not be dismissed summarily. - LSW


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20. Producer Wants Payment
Highest Court Court of Appeals of Michigan
Year Ended 2006
Plaintiffs Music Producer(s)
Defendants Music Producer(s)
TVT Records
Other Dayton Family
Ghetto E
London Records
Short Description Plaintiff rap producers were hired by London Records to produce some tracks for Eric Dorsey (a.k.a. Ghetto E), a member of the hip-hop group called the Dayton Family. After London Records decided not to pursue to project, Plaintiffs purportedly sold the master recordings (in CD format) to Defendant record labels/music producers for $80,000, hoping Defendants would sign Ghetto-E to a contract (they'd not been paid much by London). When Defendants agreed but failed to pay Plaintiffs the agreed-upon price, Plaintiffs sued for numerous causes of action, including conversion, fraud, etc. However, Plaintiffs never owned the rights to the songs on the CD, which were produced as works-for-hire for London Records, from whom Defendants obtained permission to use the recordings. The court found for Defendants, saying Plaintiffs did not have rights superior to Defendants, and thus could not sue them for appropriating property that was properly obtained and owned by Defendants. So far as Plaintiffs argued they did indeed have rights in the songs, those claims are preempted by copyright laws regarding ownership, and are the purview of federal courts. Sanctions were granted to Defendants against Plaintiffs as well. You can't help but feel bad for Plaintiffs, even if the court is right. - LSW


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