New Wave group latest to file action over digital royalties

The ’80s L.A. new wave act the Motels has become the latest act to check in with a suit alleging underpayment of royalties for digital downloads and ringtones.

The class action suit, filed against EMI by Motels lead singer Martha Davis in federal court in San Francisco on Friday, was the third such suit to be filed last week alone.

Musical parodist “Weird Al” Yankovic filed an individual suit with wider-ranging allegations the same day, while Bay Area funk band Tower of Power filed a class action against Warner Music Group on March 27 (Daily Variety, April 2).

Like the majority of the other complaints, Davis’ suit – which is open to like-situated artists — springs off the 2010 appellate decision in F.B.T. Productions’ action against Aftermath Records and Universal Music Group. The ruling said that royalties for downloads and ringtones should be computed as at the higher late mandated for licenses, rather than that mandated for sales.

Davis’ complaint alleges that, per the Motels’ 1979 contract with EMI’s Capitol Records, the group was due royalties of 50% of net proceeds from licensees. The same contract provided for just 14%-16% of the net for singles sales and 16%-22% of the net on album sales (with units sold determining the percentage paid).

A subsequent 1985 contract between the Motels and Capitol also mandated 50% royalties from licenses, with 20% paid for sales of vinyl singles and a sliding scale for album sales beginning at approximately 12.81%.

An EMI spokesman could not be reached immediately for comment.

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