WASHINGTON — Thirty-five years after recording the quintessential party song, the Kingsmen are probably in a mood to party themselves.
On Monday, the Supreme Court upheld a California judge’s April ruling supporting the band’s claim to royalties on sales of their 1963 hit record “Louie Louie.”
The Kingsmen, founded in Portland, Ore., and now based in Seattle, signed away the rights to their version of Richard Berry’s “Louie Louie” in 1968 for 9% of future licensing fees and profits. They never received a penny in royalties, and in 1993, they sued GML and Gusto Records, which own rights to the 105 songs the Kingsmen recorded for Wand Records. (“Louie Louie” was initially released regionally on the Jerdon label.)
In that case, Gusto claimed that the Kingsmen’s claims were barred by the statute of limitations. But the judge ruled that since each royalty payment due was, in effect, a new obligation “renewing” the terms of the original contract under California law, the group had at least four years to sue from the date of any royalty payment.
In addition to awarding all future royalties to the musicians, the California judge ordered the music companies to hand over the master recordings.
GML and Gusto Records, held in contempt after refusing to hand over the master recordings, took the case to the Supreme Court, arguing that California courts did not have jurisdiction over the case.
“What this ruling means for record companies is that they need to become extremely diligent and proactive in investigating the royalty clauses of each and every master contract, or they could run the risk of losing the contract completely,” stated attorney Scott Edelman of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, which repped the band in the case.
The Kingsmen, featuring three of the musicians who recorded “Louie Louie,” continue to tour. Court documents in the case contained no firm estimate of how much money the band stands to collect.
“Louie Louie” was first recorded by its composer, Richard Berry, and was covered in 1963 by Paul Revere and the Raiders, but the vesion by the Kingsmen that same year became the rock classic.
In a 1986 case, Berry collected $2 million in royalties for the song after an artists’ rights group took up his cause.
Dozens of versions of the song have been recorded, and its history is chronicled in a 1993 book, “Louie Louie” by rock critic Dave Marsh.
(Reuters contributed to this report.)