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Clip: Record Labels Must Pay Shortchanged Performers

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  • Carl Zimring
    http://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/05/arts/music/05ROYA.html Record Labels Must Pay Shortchanged Performers By LOLA OGUNNAIKE Published: May 5, 2004 David Bowie
    Message 1 of 1 , May 5, 2004

      Record Labels Must Pay Shortchanged Performers

      Published: May 5, 2004

      David Bowie may not need the extra money, and Elvis Presley will not be
      able to spend his windfall. But under an agreement announced yesterday by
      New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, record companies will be sending
      out checks for outstanding royalties owed to them and thousands of other

      Mr. Spitzer said that the settlement, which amounted to nearly $50 million,
      was the result of a two-year investigation that found the world's largest
      recording companies had failed to maintain contact with many artists and
      writers and had stopped making required payments to them.

      In an interview after a news conference that was filled with television
      cameras, Mr. Spitzer said that "an array of explanations" were offered by
      the record companies, "like `we didn't really pay close attention,' " and
      none were "persuasive legally."

      Already $25 million has been paid out since his office began its
      investigation, Mr. Spitzer said.

      Among the more prominent artists due money are Mr. Bowie, owed $10,698, and
      Dolly Parton, owed $17,568. Willie Nelson is owned $2,325, Tom Jones
      $16,399 and Public Enemy $22,766. "It's not like it's hard to find them,"
      Mr. Spitzer said. "You could go to a concert and throw the check at them

      Money owed to artists now dead will go to their estates. Mr. Spitzer
      stressed that the settlement would bring the most benefit to "an enormous
      reservoir of artists for whom $500 or $1,000 will matter."

      When told that she would receive $3,079, Marian McPartland, an 86-year-old
      jazz pianist who is the host of "Piano Jazz" on National Public Radio,
      expressed surprise: "It's always nice to get money without doing anything,
      but I guess many years ago I did do something."

      Under the agreement, Warner Music Group, Bertelsmann Music Group, Sony
      Music Entertainment and EMI Group must list the names of artists and
      writers who are owed royalties on their Web sites; place advertisements in
      leading music-industry trade publications explaining procedures for
      applying for unclaimed royalties; work with music-industry groups and
      unions to find artists who are owed royalties; and share artist contact
      information with one another.

      In a statement, Sony Music said, "We applaud the attorney general's efforts
      to focus attention on this area and sincerely hope that his announcement
      will encourage additional artists and their heirs to step forward and claim
      their royalties."

      Bob Donnelly, an entertainment lawyer, said he brought the royalty matter
      to Mr. Spitzer's attention. Mr. Donnelly said that he had planned to file a
      class-action lawsuit against the music industry, "but every time we'd get a
      good plaintiff, the record company would offer to pay them."

      Mr. Donnelly encouraged Mr. Spitzer to use New York State's
      abandoned-property law. "The law says that after five years of holding
      somebody's property that has been theoretically abandoned, you have to turn
      the money over to the state," Mr. Donnelly said.

      Mr. Donnelly had previously secured royalty payments for the Ronettes,
      Foreigner and Bootsy Collins. "The labels had clearly violated the law" by
      not transferring the money to the state," he said.

      Representatives from artist advocacy groups expressed satisfaction with the
      settlement. "Any time you can find a new source of income that can assist
      our constituents in maintaining their dignity and way of life we're happy,"
      said Kendall Minter, chairman of the Rhythm and Blues Foundation.

      L. Londell McMillan, a lawyer who helped found the Artist Empowerment
      Coalition, said the record companies' decision to distribute royalties may
      represent the beginning of a new era in the industry. "For so long the
      music business has been operating like the wild, wild West," Mr. McMillan
      said. "But with things like Enron and WorldCom going on, labels may be
      finally realizing that it's time to reel things in."

      Leslie Eaton contributed reporting for this article.
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