While streaming brands tinker with the royalty penny slots, EMI Music has been playing high-stakes poker with marked cards on the likes of legendary Duke Ellington and other vintage song catalogs oversees.
Unfortunately, the courts keep siding with EMI.
Duke Ellington’s grandson and heir, Paul Ellington, recently sued the record label for double-dipping into his grandpa’s foreign music royalties. Based on a long-standing contract, Duke’s estate splits all foreign profits with EMI 50/50.
When EMI started working with a foreign distributor who demanded half of foreign profits ahead of sending Duke and EMI their splits, EMI agreed 50% was a fair ‘fee’ to pay for processing Duke’s foreign sales.
Then Paul caught wind that the expensive new foreign distributor was a subsidiary of EMI. Since EMI still gets half of Duke’s total take-home, the label could now absorb 75% of Duke’s foreign profits before his estate saw a dime.
Ready for the real kick in the pants? Paul’s lawsuit, filed and appealed in New York courts, has lost based on a technicality that could have massive corporate ramifications: the 1961 contract was only written in present tense. Therefore, four of seven New York appellate judges agreed the contract did not conflict with EMI’s future company subsidiaries, like the label’s new foreign ‘sub-publishing’ entities.
Now the estate of John Stewart, Kingston Trio member and songwriter for The Monkees, has filed an identical lawsuit against EMI over the same foreign distribution shenanigans, but this time in the State of California. According to his widow’s claim, EMI’s new tactic has quickly nicked $450,000 from Stewart’s latest foreign distributions.
Hard to say whether Mrs. Stewart calling EMI’s bluff will produce a different outcome. But we sincerely hope the house’s odds bend in her favor.