MCA Music Entertainment Group, vowing to use profits from sales of its Chess Records catalog to fight illegally produced recordings, yesterday announced a lawsuit against 20 companies it claims have knocked off the R&B catalog.

The company’s campaign against illegal recordings of Chess product comes in the wake of a recent decision by a Los Angeles Superior Court judge, who said MCA was the sole owner of the catalog (Daily Variety, Aug. 20).

The decision is under appeal, but MCA said yesterday it remains confident that its rights to the catalog will be upheld.

The Chess catalog includes music from Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Etta James and similar R&B titans.

MCA Music Entertainment Group chairman Al Teller, speaking at a press conference at the Four Seasons Hotel, said his company was “totally committed to putting a stop” to illegal duplication of the Chess catalog. Teller said the company had already spent more than $ 500,000 in legal fees pursuing that objective.

Etta James, who is scheduled to be inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in January, was also on hand to thank MCA for its efforts. She noted that the first royalty check she had received since her career began came from MCA five years ago, and she continues to receive checks today.

The new MCA effort tells consumers and retailers how to identify unauthorized bootleg albums; it also includes stepped-up legal action to protect MCA’s copyrights for the Chess record catalog, which it acquired in 1985.

The program will be advertised both in the U.S. and abroad, and consumers will be urged to call an 800 number if they spot any bogus Chess recordings that don’t carry the MCA trademark.

MCA Music, a unit of Matsushita Electric Industrial Co.’s MCA Inc., won the exclusive ownership in September against Marshall Sehorn and his company, Red Dog Express Inc., for selling Chess recordings it didn’t rightfully own. Sehorn has appealed.

In a new suit filed Monday in Los Angeles, MCA suedabout 20 additional companies that continue to sell unauthorized recordings of Chess artists.

MCA also said it has hired lawyers in London, Paris, Brussels and other foreign cities, because piracy is even worse outside the U.S.

Mike Greene, president of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, applauded MCA’s efforts, saying the company’s campaign represented “a seminal decision by a record company to draw a line in the sand and stand prepared to devote the resources necessary to prosecute those individuals and companies who dare to cross it.

“We hope this is the beginning of a wave of protection by labels to put an end to this problem.”

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