Roy Thomas Baker alleges underpayment of royalties

Producer Roy Thomas Baker has filed a wide-ranging breach of contract suit against Sony Music Entertainment, alleging underpayment of nearly half a million dollars in royalties for two bestselling Journey albums of the ’70s and the band’s greatest hits package.

Among Baker’s allegations, he claims that he was shortchanged on royalties for digital downloads and ringtones. More than a dozen class actions and individual suits have mounted similar claims in the wake of a 2010 appellate court ruling mandating higher payments for digital music sales.

Baker opted out of a class action filed against Sony by Cheap Trick, the Allman Brothers and others that was settled earlier this year. Present suit claims the settlement was “wholly insufficient.”

Baker is being represented by Nashville litigator Richard Busch, who is also acting on behalf of such artists as Kenny Rogers, Toto, “Weird Al” Yankovic and Peter Frampton in their individual digital royalties claims against their labels.

A top ’70s producer best known for his work on Queen’s 1975 album “A Night at the Opera” and its hit “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Baker helmed Journey’s breakthrough albums “Infinity” (1978) and “Evolution” (1979) under a 1977 agreement with Sony’s predecessor CBS Records. Those Columbia releases have both been certified triple platinum for sales of more than 3 million by the RIAA.

Some of the hits on those two collections found their way onto Journey’s “Greatest Hits” compilation. The suit claims that package has sold more than 80 million copies and has spent more than 887 weeks on the national album chart. Royalties from a “Greatest Hits” DVD are also at issue.

Baker’s suit is the product of an audit of Sony’s books regarding the company’s payments from January 2007-June 2010. Action claims underpayments plus interest of $475,000 for the period, while Sony has claimed underpayment of just $68,000 for the period.

In one of its main claims, the suit specifically cites the appellate decision in F.B.T. Productions vs. Aftermath Records – the so-called “Eminem case” – which ruled royalties for digital downloads and ringtones should be calculated at the far higher contractual rate (usually 50% of net receipts) for third-party licenses, and not as sales.

The difference between what Sony paid and what Baker says he is due amounts to more than $200,000, according to the action.

Baker additionally claims he was shorted on royalties from domestic and foreign physical sales, and that several specious or non-existent deductions were applied. He alleges he was paid no royalties whatsoever for the “Greatest Hits” DVD.

A Sony spokesman had no comment.

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