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1. Oh, Poor Vinnie Vincent
Highest Court Sixth Circuit
Year Ended 2010
Plaintiffs Vincent, Vinnie
Defendants Band Member(s)
Business Entity of Artist(s)
KISS
Polygram Records
Simmons, Gene
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Vinnie Vincent (nee Cusano) was KISS's lead guitarist from 1982-84, at which time he co-wrote numerous songs that appeared on albums. Though he's not too well known by the population at-large, he's well known in courts of law. Vincent sued the band and its members numerous times during the 1990s and 2000s (see, e.g., "Vinnie Vincent Wants In" (I) and (II), and "Vinnie Vincent vs. Metal Edge"). In the late 1990s, he sued his former band-mates for numerous causes of action, including violation of publicity, defamation, and nonpayment of royalties. He lost the case, and KISS were awarded $80,000 in fees and costs, for which the band members secured a judgment lien on Vincent's copyrights. Vincent filed this Chapter 13 bankruptcy case, as wells as numerous adversary proceedings against various parties, including one against BMI for which he was awarded $2,000 of the $20,000 he requested. After third parties motioned to convert his bankruptcy into Chapter 7, Vincent moved to voluntarily withdraw his petition. The court, noting that Vincent had filed in bad faith, barred him from filing for two years and held that no subsequent filing could impact matters relating to the prior litigation between Vincent and KISS. The appellate court, after addressing preliminary issues, upheld the lower court's finding as to "bad faith." Vincent had filed three times in three years and had withheld financial information from courts adjudicating his proceedings. (Ancillary issues were also discussed, but the "bad faith" issue was, according to the court, the most important.) - LSW


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2. 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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3. George Clinton's Publisher's War (VI)
Highest Court M.D. Tennessee
Year Ended 2007
Plaintiffs Bridgeport Music
Defendants Interscope Records
Island Def Jam Music Group
Music Publisher(s)
Polygram Records
Record Label(s)
Universal Music Group
Other Clinton, George
Eric B. and Rakim
Parliament-Funkadelic
Short Description Publisher for Funkadelic sued rap duo Eric B. and Rakim for sampling "You'll Like it Too" in their 1987 song "I Know You Got Soul," which seem to have been re-released, causing the controversy in this case. This case arose from a large litigation campaign instigated by Bridgeport (over 500 complaints were filed at the same time against numerous parties), and the issue here was whether UMG should be considered a licensee of Bridgeport, which it claimed it was, and thus subject to a previous settlement. UMG's motion for partial summary judgment was denied; issues of fact exist. - LSW


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4. Hank Sr.'s Radio Tapes Up For Grabs?
Highest Court Court of Appeals of Tennessee
Year Ended 2006
Plaintiffs Polygram Records
Defendants Record Label(s)
Williams, Hank (Jr.)
Other Williams, Hank (Sr.)
Short Description After live performances by Williams were recovered from a radio station's trash, three different parties sued over rights to release them: the party who purchased the tapes from radio station, Williams' former record label, and Williams' heirs. The court found that the radio station did not possess copyrights to the performances by virtue of ownership and the record label only had rights to his phonograph recordings. Heirs get it. - LSW


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5. 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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6. 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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7. Chi-Lites vs. Purported Theifs
Highest Court D. Nevada
Year Ended 2003
Plaintiffs Music Publisher(s)
Defendants Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI)
Polygram Records
Universal Music Group
Other Chi-Lites
Short Description Plaintiff is apparently the publisher with rights to songs by the Chi-Lites, specifically the song "Message to the World," here suing the Chi-Lites' record label and others, alleging not just copyright infringement and breach of contract, but "theft by deception" as well. Unfortunately, "theft by deception" is not an existing tort, and is thus dismissed. The other causes of action will proceed to trial. - LSW


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8. Beck Busted for Sampling
Highest Court M.D. Georgia
Year Ended 2001
Plaintiffs Jenkins, Johnny
Defendants Beck
Geffen Records
Music Producer(s)
Music Publisher(s)
Polygram Records
Record Label(s)
Rothrock, Tom
Schnapf, Rob
Stephenson, Karl
Universal Music
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Songwriter from 1950s/1960s sued Beck and others for trademark infringement, unfair competition, and assorted related claims. Beck purportedly used portions of Plaintiff's song in his own and other Defendants released Plaintiff's music in various capacities alleged to be illicit (might as well sue everyone at once, eh?). The court granted Plaintiff's motion to compel discovery in part, allowing discovery to go forward with respect to Plaintiff's breach of contract and unfair competition claims. - LSW & SKR


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9. Ohio Players: "No More Contract!"
Highest Court S.D. New York
Year Ended 2000
Plaintiffs Ohio Players
Defendants Polygram Records
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description The Ohio Players, who in the 1970s went to great lengths to sign a contract with Defendant's predecessor (Phonogram Records), sued their label twenty years later after signing a renegotiated second record contract, which they hoped would put them on more equal footing with their label, providing royalty income for recordings that wouldn't be set off against their recoupable debt with the label. It was, however, equally slanted in the label's favor, as acknowledged by the court. According to the contract, certain royalties from compilation records and licensing were applied to old debts, and thus would not reach the artists anytime soon. Regardless, when the Players argued the contract should be rescinded for fraud or breach, the court disagreed. In fact, the court ruled against the Players on all counts; their unjust enrichment claim was preempted by the Copyright Act and they'd proven no breach of good faith and fair dealing. The contracts may not have been very favorable, but they're not actionable. - LSW


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10. Phantom of the Infringement?
Highest Court Second Circuit
Year Ended 1997
Plaintiffs Repp, Ray
Defendants Hal Leonard Publishing
MCA Records
Music Publisher(s)
Polygram Records
Webber, Andrew Lloyd
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Christian songwriter known for bringing folk music into Catholic masses sued Andrew Lloyd Webber, alleging that a song in his musical Phantom of the Opera infringed Repp's song "Till You." Webber counterclaimed, asserting "Till You" infringed one of his songs. Childish counterclaim dismissed, and eventually Repp's claims as well. - [This entry is not yet complete or has not been edited/checked.]


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11. They Fought the Law, and They Won!
Highest Court Supreme Court of Washington
Year Ended 1994
Plaintiffs A&M Records
Alice in Chains
Artist(s)
Atlantic Records
Bertelsman Music Group (BMG)
Capitol-EMI Music
Criminal Nation
Elektra Records
EMI Records
Estrus Records
Geffen Records
GRP Records
Heart
Island Records
MCA Records
Music Distributor(s)
Nirvana
Pearl Jam
Polygram Records
Priority Records
Queensryche
Record Label(s)
Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA)
Schuur, Diane
Seven Year Bitch
Sir Mix-A-Lot
Sire Records
Sony Music
Soundgarden
Sub Pop Records
Tower Records
Warner Bros. Records
Defendants County Entity and/or Official(s)
State Entity and/or Official(s)
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Soundgarden, as well as numerous other musicians and record labels, sought to declare a state obscenity statute regarding "erotic sound recordings" constitutionally void on its face, since it interfered with the artists' ability to freely express themselves, access their ideas, and manage their business . Ruling in favor of Soundgarden, the Supreme Court of Washington held that the statute was a prior restraint on the artists' protected speech, that the statute was overbroad since it reached constitutionally protected conduct, and that the statute violated due process. Judgment for Soundgarden. - SKR


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12. Kool & Gang's Money Trouble (I)
Highest Court Third Circuit
Year Ended 1990
Plaintiffs Band Member(s)
Defendants No Defendants on file
Other Kool and the Gang
Music Publisher(s)
Polygram Records
Short Description James Taylor, singer for Kool and the Gang, declared and was granted bankruptcy. Nice exposition of the music industry as well. - [This entry is not yet complete or has not been edited/checked.]


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13. Who Gets to be the Vels?
Highest Court S.D. New York
Year Ended 1986
Plaintiffs Former Band Member(s)
Defendants Polygram Records
Vels
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Though their name sounds like fifties doo-wop, The Vels were an American "new wave" group, briefly signed to Mercury Records (a subsidiary of Polygram) during the mid-1980s, at the tail end of the new wave phenomenon. Perhaps this lawsuit was among the reasons their career was so short-lived. After their first album was released in 1984, two of the three members dismissed the third, then filmed a music video and recorded a second album without him. Plaintiff, the dismissed member, sued the band and their record label, alleging the music video, which featured his voice but not his image, constituted false designation and false description under the Lanham Act. He also included numerous additional claims, such as breach of joint venture agreement and fiduciary duties, tortious interference, and others. Regarding the Lanham charge, the court held that the claims against the record label must be dismissed. Polygram contracted for the rights to use the name, "The Vels," in connection with music provided by the band's joint venture, regardless of who was a joint venturer at the time. More potently, it was authorized to terminate the contract regarding any "leaving member" of the group, and to continue with the remaining members. Plaintiff, whether he liked it or not, was a "leaving member" in Polygram's view. With the sole federal claim dismissed, all other state law claims were dismissed as well. - LSW


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14. Bee Gee's Copy? No Way!
Highest Court Seventh Circuit
Year Ended 1984
Plaintiffs Songwriter(s)
Defendants Bee Gees
Paramount Pictures
Polygram Records
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description After seeing the movie "Saturday Night Fever," Plaintiff, a composer, sued the three brothers collectively known as the Bee Gees for copyright infringement, specifically alleging that their hit song "How Deep is Your Love" infringed on the copyright of his song "Let It End." The court affirmed the lower court's grant of the Bee Gees' motion of judgment notwithstanding the verdict, holding that Plaintiff failed to meet his burden of establishing a "striking similarity" between his song on the Bee Gees' song. ("Striking similarity" is required when Plaintiffs are unable to show Defendants had access to the copyrighted work, so "substantial similarity" is insufficient to evidence copying). - SKR (ed. LSW)


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15. Atlanta Rhythm in Contract Suit
Highest Court S.D. New York
Year Ended 1981
Plaintiffs Polygram Records
Defendants Atlanta Rhythm Section
Music Producer(s)
Other No Other parties on file
Short Description Atlanta Rhythm Section (a.k.a. ARS), a southern rock band from Georgia, was sued by Polygram to prevent them from producing new records with Defendant, a production company. Polygram argued that it had timely exercised an option in its contract with ARS to extend the time frame of their exclusive services for the band. The court ruled in favor of ARS, holding that Polygram accepted the delivery of ARS's fourth and final album per the terms of the contract, demonstrating that Polygram failed to timely exercise its option. - SKR


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