Francis sues Universal Music

Suit claims singer's mental state exploited

NEW YORK — Connie Francis has sued Universal Music Group, claiming systematic underreporting of royalties to the veteran torch singer, as well as emotional distress suffered when the label licensed her music for use in movies with sexually “deviant” scenes.

Suit, which claims breach of contract and seeks damages in excess of $10 million, claims UMG exploited Francis’ unstable mental state to profit illegally from her catalog of songs, which include such mega-sellers of the ’50s and ’60s as “Who’s Sorry Now?,” “Where the Boys Are” and “Don’t Break the Heart That Loves You.”

Singer’s last three decades have been riddled with tragedy, including a rape and assault, the murder of her brother in 1981, numerous stints in psychiatric hospitals and an attempted suicide.

“Notwithstanding Francis’ mental illness, Polygram took advantage of Francis’ impaired capacity,” according to a filing with the U.S. District Court in Manhattan.

Universal Music reps declined to comment, citing company policy on pending litigation.

Francis, who ranks among modern pop divas Madonna and Mariah Carey as one of the all-time top-selling female artists, is asking for $5 million in damages specifically for the underpayment of royalties.

Suit claims UMG, part of French media giant Vivendi Universal, produced compilations of the singer’s work without including their sales in royalty computations, and that the company withheld royalties for promotional “free goods” on newer formats like CD without negotiating a rate beforehand.

Filing also alleges Universal licensed several of her songs for use in two films — 1999’s black comedy “Jawbreaker” and the controversial 1994 drama “Postcards From America” — that feature explicit acts of sex and violence, including rape and sexual acts involving minors.

Aside from compensatory and punitive damages, Francis is demanding UMG rescind her recording agreements for 1955 to 1966, return to her the master recordings of songs recorded under those deals, and destroy any inventory of records made from those masters.

The Newark, N.J.-born Francis began her recording career in 1954, signing a contract with the music arm of MGM, and reached the peak of her pop-music popularity in the early ’60s. She also appeared in such films as “Where the Boys Are” and “Looking For Love.” MGM Records was sold to Dutch music giant Polygram in 1972, which was in turn swallowed by Universal 17 years later.