Weird Al Sues Sony Music

Source: The Tennessean – By Anita Wadhwani

Yankovic is seeking $5 million in unpaid royalties

“Weird Al” Yankovic, the frizzy-haired parody singer best known for his 1980s musical send-offs of stars such as Michael Jackson and Milli Vanilli, filed suit  against Sony Music Entertainment, claiming the record label has deliberately underpaid him more than $5 million.

Filed today in federal court in New York, Yankovic’s suit is the latest in a growing list of looming court battles between artists and the nation’s major record labels over accounting and payment practices for music sold and streamed online.

Since December, country singer Kenny Rogers, rocker Peter Frampton, members of the ‘80s rock band Toto and an heir to the drummer for the ‘70s rock band The Knack – known for the hit “My Sharona” – have all filed suit on similar grounds – claiming

that record labels have kept the lion’s share of digital music sales instead of fairly dividing them with the artists.

The artists are all represented by Nashville attorney Richard Busch, partner with King & Ballow. Busch claims that record labels have systematically and deliberately underpayed his artist clients of their fair share of royalties for music sold online.

Producers for rapper Eminem, whom Busch also represents, successfully sued Universal Music Group last year on similar grounds. That case returns to a Los Angeles courtroom on April 24 to determine how much in retroactive royalties will be paid to Eminem and his producers. The potential award is estimated in the millions of dollars.

Yankovic’s breach of contract claims more than $2 million in alleged underpayment from Sony for his music sold online through retailers such as iTunes and Amazon or downloaded as ringtones from cell phone companies since 2003. Yankovic’s records include hugely popular parodies of hit song’s such as “Eat It” – a riff on Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” and “Smells Like Nirvana,” a parody of the grunge group’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” He has sold more than 12 million records.

But Yankovic’s suit opens new territory in the disputes between artists and record labels over how to share in payments owed on revenues derived from new business models, particularly new kinds of online music sales.

Yankovic, whose real name is Alfred Matthew Yankovic, is also making the claim that he is entitled to a significant share of Sony’s profits from its deal with YouTube.

In exchange for an equity stake in Google-owned YouTube, Sony gave the video site legal access to Sony’s content. At the time of the deal, Weird Al’s “White and Nerdy” video and other content created by Yankovic were among the most popular videos on the site, the suit says. (Currently that video has had more than 69 million views). Yankovic claims, that because his videos made up a portion of Sony’s worth to YouTube, he is entitled to a share of the profits from the deal as well.

In addition to the underpayments from retailers like Amazon and iTunes, Yankovic’s lawsuit claims he is owed more than $2.5 million from that share of profits, plus smaller sums for legal awards, settlements, various overpayments, and underpayments from Sony as detailed in the suit.

“The question becomes what proportion of revenues should artists be receiving when record labels are making money off them in non-traditional ways,” Busch said. “There are numerous issues on the cutting edge that are similar and relate to revenues being received by the record labels, such as advertising, general advances, and lawsuit settlements, for example, that artists have a right to share in. I would expect claims like this, if not identical, to be made as the landscape evolves.”

A Sony official was not immediately available for comment.

Yankovic filed suit through his company Ear Booker Enterprises in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.