Clip: Record Labels Must Pay Shortchanged Performers
Record Labels Must Pay Shortchanged Performers
By LOLA OGUNNAIKE
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
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.