Rockers sue UMG for digital royalties

Zombie, Whitesnake, Mason follow on James estate's allegations

Four well-known acts have filed a suit against Universal Music Group, claiming the company shortchanged them on royalties from digital download and ringtone sales.

Litigation follows a class-action suit lodged April 1 against UMG by the estate of Rick James. It alleges that the late Motown Records artist and other heritage performers were shorted on their digital royalties (Daily Variety, April 4).

Last Wednesday’s filing in U.S. District Court in San Francisco by metal performer (and now film director) Rob Zombie, his band White Zombie, ’80s hair-metal group Whitesnake and rock singer-songwriter Dave Mason echoes the James estate’s allegations. Plaintiffs all enjoyed long stays on UMG labels in the pre-digital era.

Suit estimates damages, to be determined at trial, in the tens of millions of dollars.

Floodgates for these suits were opened by a Sept. 3 decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Pasadena, which overturned a jury verdict in a case brought against UMG and others by two firms active in rap star Eminem’s early career.

The appeals panel ruled that digital downloads constituted licenses and not sales and thus were subject to a higher royalty rate (Daily Variety, Sept. 7). In March, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

A UMG spokesman said the new complaint “suffers from serious flaws and weaknesses, not the least of which is that the claims asserted are not appropriate for class treatment. We will vigorously defend against it.”

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